September 27, 2019

Senators Warren, Markey, and Rep. Trahan Seek Answers from Columbia Gas, NiSource Following Major Gas Leak in Lawrence

Gas leak caused over 300 Lawrence, MA, residents to evacuate their homes and businesses and cut off power to over 1,300 customers

Boston, MA - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and U.S. Representative Lori Trahan (D-Mass.-03) today sent a letter to Mark Kempic, President and Chief Operating Officer of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts and Joseph Hamrock, President and Chief Executive Officer of Columbia Gas's parent company NiSource, requesting information about a new major gas leak in Lawrence that forced over 300 people to evacuate their homes in the middle of the night and cut off power to over 1,300 customers.

"Thousands of families had their lives turned upside down last year because of the natural gas fires and explosions. We are deeply concerned to see that Lawrence residents have to deal with these same issues and threats to their safety and livelihood," the lawmakers wrote in their letter. "It is vital that you promptly restore gas service to the homes and businesses affected in Lawrence, and that you conduct an investigation into the cause as quickly as possible."

In the letter, the lawmakers asked the companies to provide a briefing on the cause of and response to the incident and answers to their questions no later than October 1, 2019. Their questions and requests for information include:

1.     Please provide a summary of the cause of the gas leak. Was Columbia Gas or its employees or contractors in any way responsible for this leak?

2.     Please provide any and all internal or other investigations of the cause of this incident.

3.     Please provide a list of all new actions taken by the company in response to this incident.

4.     Reports indicate that the leak was detected around 3:00 AM, but power was not cut to the area until 4:30 AM and gas was reportedly not shut off until 5:08 AM. When did Columbia Gas become aware of a problem, and what actions did it take in response? 

5.     Why did it take approximately 90 minutes after the leak began for power to be cut in the area, and more than two hours for Columbia Gas to shut down the flow of gas?

6.     Did Columbia Gas recognize the leak on its own, or was it the result of reporting by residents or first responders?

7.     Were any pressure abnormalities detected by Columbia Gas control operators and if not, why not, given that this appears to have been a significant leak?

8.     Was the pipe that leaked one that was replaced in the response to the September 13, 2018 disaster? If so, was it inserted into an abandoned main or was it buried separately?

9.     Is Columbia Gas conducting a full risk assessment on its other mains in the Merrimack Valley system and in its other Massachusetts service areas to see if other mains may be at risk of a similar leak? If not, why not?
10.  What quantity of gas was released in this major leak?

11.  How did Columbia Gas communicate with first responders and local officials after being alerted to the leak? Please provide a timeline of all contact, noting any new communication policies that have been put into place following the September 13, 2018 disaster.

Since the September 13, 2018 gas explosions, Senators Warren and Markey, and Rep. Trahan have been working with community leaders like Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera to hold Columbia Gas and NiSource accountable. They helped hold the companies 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, sent a letter to Columbia Gas decrying the large backdated gas bills for impacted families, and led a hearing in November 2018 on the disaster. Their legislation, the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act, would make sure that companies like NiSource and Columbia Gas prioritize safety over speed and profits.