Mass. Issues Moratorium on Columbia Gas After Lawrence Gas Leak

Massachusetts officials are taking action against Columbia Gas following last week's gas leak in Lawrence.

The Department of Public Utilities issued a moratorium against the company Thursday, requiring it to get state approval before doing any non-emergency work.

The decision was made out of an abundance of caution and does not reflect a concern over public safety, the DPU said. The moratorium is in effect indefinitely.

Hundreds of people were forced from their homes last Friday after a gas main was punctured. Just over a year earlier, Columbia Gas came under scrutiny following a series of gas explosions in Merrimack Valley. The DPU issued a similar moratorium last October.

"I applaud the DPU & EEA's actions today," Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said in a statement. "This moratorium is exactly what we need until Columbia gas can show us they can walk and chew gum at the same time, when it comes to the safety of the community and running the utility."

In a letter to Columbia Gas Thursday, DPU Chairman Matthew Nelson raised concerns about the company's actions leading up to the gas leak.

"On September 11, 2019, you reported issues relating to service lines that were abandoned during the restoration work in Merrimack Valley following last year's gas line event," Nelson wrote. "Additionally, while investigating a Grade 1 gas leak in Lawrence on September 27, 2019, the Department discovered that, during the restoration efforts, Columbia Gas failed to follow required procedures for the abandonment of gate boxes."

Nelson said that if required procedures had been followed, the gas leak would have been prevented.

The moratorium requires Columbia Gas to get explicit approval from the DPU before doing work not classified as emergency work on its gas distribution system. The restrictions do not apply to the previously identified issues in Merrimack Valley.

"As a general matter, the Department expects to approve work involving customer service connections and conversions of heating supply for new and existing customers," Nelson wrote. "The Department also expects that Columbia Gas will promptly submit any requests to approve work."

Joe Hamrock, CEO of NiSource, the parent company of Columbia Gas, said his company would comply with the moratorium.

"To ensure our customers can feel safe in their homes and businesses, we will be ceasing non-emergency work in Massachusetts effective immediately," Hamrock said in a statement. "We agree with the Department of Public Utilities that this is the appropriate and responsible course of action. We recognize many have lost their sense of security and we take responsibility for that."

Hamrock added that his company will continue working with Massachusetts officials to improve safety.

Below is a list of cities and towns served by Columbia Gas and impacted by the moratorium:

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