March 15, 2019

Massachusetts Lawmakers Request Additional Information from Columbia Gas Amid New Reports of Delays and Shortfalls in Gas Explosion Claims Process

Reports Indicate that Financial Compensation following Merrimack Valley Explosions May Not Cover Losses for Families and Businesses

Text of the Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) along with Representatives Seth Moulton (MA-06) and Lori Trahan (MA-03) yesterday sent a letter to Columbia Gas and its parent company NiSource requesting additional information about the claims process established for the communities of the Merrimack Valley devastated by the deadly September 13, 2018 natural gas explosions. The letter comes after recent reports that Columbia Gas is failing to provide timely and complete assistance.

"It has been six months since the explosions caused thousands of families to evacuate their homes for days or weeks, damaged or destroyed dozens of homes, left many businesses with considerable financial losses, and tragically took a young man's life," wrote the Massachusetts lawmakers. "But there are new reports that the financial compensation Columbia Gas is providing for affected businesses 'doesn't come close to covering their losses,' and that some 'haven't been paid at all, despite filing their claims months ago.'"

Columbia Gas has not made a full public accounting of the claims intake, evaluation and payment process, failing to provide detailed information about the claims they are receiving, approving, and denying. As of March 7, 2019, Columbia Gas has received 24,878 claims - 24,049 of which they report as closed; and has paid out $94.8 million.

Staff wrote privately to Columbia Gas executives on behalf of the Massachusetts lawmakers in January, requesting a detailed written response and a monthly briefing about the claims process. Columbia Gas representatives provided summarized claims-related information but left numerous important questions unanswered or incomplete.

Given the urgency of the matter, the Massachusetts lawmakers are asking Columbia Gas to provide information on the process and are seeking a commitment from them to fully reimburse and pay customers for losses related to the incident by March 29, 2019.

The lawmakers have been working to hold Columbia Gas and NiSource accountable for the damages caused in the Merrimack Valley gas explosions, including by pressing the companies to safely restore gas service to residents and businesses and make needed repairs to infrastructure. They also successfully secured emergency assistance for the region's small businesses impacted by the disaster, sent a letter to Columbia Gas decrying the large backdated gas bills for impacted families, and participated in a hearing in November 2018 on the disaster.