February 26, 2020

Senator Warren Statement on Federal Criminal Charges Against Columbia Gas of Massachusetts for the 2018 Merrimack Valley Pipeline Disaster

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today released the following statement concerning Columbia Gas of Massachusetts pleading guilty to violating the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act in connection with the September 2018 Merrimack Valley natural gas disaster that killed 19-year-old Leonel Rondon, injured more than two dozen people, damaged more than 100 structures, and left residents without heat for weeks. NiSource, the parent company to Columbia Gas, has also agreed to pay a $53 million fine.

"Since the September 2018 gas pipeline explosions in the Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts has come together to hold Columbia Gas and NiSource responsible for this preventable disaster," said Senator Warren. "Today's guilty plea ensures that Columbia Gas will end its operations in the Commonwealth and puts other gas companies on notice that they will be prosecuted for prioritizing profits over safety. But there is a glaring weakness with this settlement: this was a massive failure of the company's safety culture -- and somehow no individual executive is being held accountable. And our work is far from over as we keep fighting to pass the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act to strengthen regulatory safety laws and keep our communities safe."

Since the September 13, 2018 gas explosions, Senator Warren has worked with Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Representative Lori Trahan  (MA-03), and community leaders like Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera to hold Columbia Gas and NiSource accountable

  • Following hearings the lawmakers convened to investigate the disaster, Senators Warren and Markey and Rep. Trahan introduced the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act, which responds to deficiencies uncovered during the investigation and would strengthen pipeline safety by closing regulatory loopholes and increasing safety standards.
  • Key provisions of their legislation was passed by the Senator Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in July 2019 and by the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee in November 2019
  • The lawmakers also worked to hold Columbia Gas and NiSource accountable to safely restore gas service to residents and businesses and make needed repairs to infrastructure.  
  • They also helped successfully secure emergency assistance for the region's small businesses impacted by the disaster, and condemned Columbia Gas for attempting to recoup large, backdated gas bills from impacted families.