September 28, 2018

Warren, Markey Press Columbia Gas on Fire Risks from Hot Plates, Space Heaters Provided to Families in Wake of Merrimack Valley Gas Explosions

Senators Ask about Columbia's Process for Ensuring Safety, Reducing Fire Risk

Text of the Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today sent a letter to Columbia Gas to request additional information about the company's plans to provide space heaters and electric hot plates to the thousands of people affected by the recent gas explosions in Andover, Lawrence and North Andover this month.

"There is an inherent safety risk in these products," said Senators Warren and Markey.  "All families that have or will receive these electric hot plates and space heaters need to be extra cautious."

After a series of gas fires and explosions on September 13, 2018 damaged or destroyed dozens of homes and left thousands of Massachusetts residents and businesses without gas service, Columbia Gas has started to replace 48 miles of pipelines that provide service to thousands of people in the Merrimack Valley region, and to assess and replace damaged home appliances.  As part of these efforts, Columbia Gas announced that - until this process is complete - the company would provide nearly 7,000 hot plates and 24,000 space heaters to residents affected by the gas service outage, and has begun distributing these appliances in coordination with the Massachusetts National Guard.  Columbia Gas expects to complete all repairs by November 19, 2018.

In their letter, the senators expressed concern about the increased risk associated with these temporary appliances and their long-term use, and noted a report of one electric hot plate provided by Columbia Gas that has already caused a fire.  Considering the increased risk, the senators are seeking additional information from Columbia Gas about the specific temporary appliances they are making available to residents affected by the gas service outage.

"Each day that the damaged pipelines and appliances are not replaced and gas service is not fully restored is another day that thousands of constituents live without hot water and have to rely on hot plates and space heaters to put dinner on the table and keep their families warm," the senators wrote. "Because of the increased risk associated with the use of these appliances, the quality of the products and safe use advice you provide to the impacted residents are critical."

The senators' letter also raised concerns about Columbia Gas' plans to reimburse residential and businesses customers for "reasonable costs" of switching to an alternative fuel source, and pointed out that the company has not provided a detailed explanation of how they plan to calculate and what they consider to be a "reasonable cost."

"Thousands of families have had their lives turned upside by the gas explosions through no fault of their own," the senators continued. "We are deeply concerned about the effects that months of repairs will have on the thousands of Merrimack Valley residents and businesses - especially, if these families have to rely on these appliances for an extended period of time while the restoration work is conducted."

To better understand Columbia Gas' response and strategy moving forward in the wake of this emergency, the senators asked a series of questions about the specific temporary appliances the company is making available to residents affected by the gas service outage, and what if any risk assessments and risk prevention efforts it conducted and alternatives it considered.