- The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) will hire an independent evaluator to conduct a statewide safety assessment of the natural gas distribution system, following a deadly series of gas explosions in the northern part of the state earlier this month.
- On Sept. 13, the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover were rocked by a series of explosions which killed one person and set fire to more than 70 homes.
- Gov. Charlie Baker, R, made the decision to bring in an outside party to assess the situation, mirroring a similar call in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. After declaring a state of emergency, Baker turned to another utility, Eversource Energy, to handle restoration instead of Columbia Gas.
It could take up to two years for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to complete the federal investigation into the gas explosion, but the current theory is over-pressurized gas lines on the Columbia Gas system. The company has said it will replace almost 50 miles of pipe, while the state investigation assesses the safety of Massachusetts' entire gas pipeline system.
In a statement, Baker said he had directed utilities "to work with an independent evaluator to carry out this comprehensive safety review.” He added that the assessment "will help improve accountability for utilities and add another layer of oversight for all natural gas infrastructure.”
The DPU said it will use an expedited procurement process and will consult with the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The selected evaluator will examine both the physical integrity and safety of the system, as well as the gas utilities' operational and maintenance policies.
At the conclusion of the assessment, the evaluator will file a report with recommendations as needed. The DPU announcement noted that the examination will "complement, but will not duplicate," the work being done by the NTSB.
More than 8,000 residents had to be evacuated after the Massachusetts explosions. The scenario was reminiscent of 2010, when a pipeline owned by Pacific Gas & Electric exploded in the northern California town of San Bruno, killing eight people.