Ahead of gas explosions in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover that led to one death and at least 25 injuries, the Columbia Gas pipelines were found to be over pressurized, registering a pressure 12 times higher than normal.
Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren cited that information, which came from a federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) report, in a letter to Columbia Gas of Massachusetts and its parent company NiSource.
“[The PHMSA] has reported that the pressure in the Columbia Gas system should have been around 0.5 pounds per square inch (PSI), but readings in the area reached at least 6 PSI —
12 times higher than the system was intended to hold,” the letter reads.
Massachusetts gas explosions affected thousands
The senators sent the letter on Monday, as well as a letter to the PHMSA, requesting more detailed information about the gas explosions on Sept. 13, which affected more than 8,600 gas customers in the area.
Thousands of customers were displaced due to the gas explosions. Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said that crews responded to 60 to 80 structure fires on that Thursday.
Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence was killed as a result of the explosions. He was inside his car when the shock waves of the gas explosions toppled a chimney, which collapsed onto his vehicle.
The senators are specifically asking for documents including “unredacted versions of the company’s Integrity Management Plan and any emergency response plan,” responses to the report that the gas pipelines registered as over pressurized and details on work that Columbia Gas may have been conducting on the pipeline system.
“It is imperative that the people of the Commonwealth are provided an understanding of what caused this disaster and how you responded to it, in order to ensure that we never again face a similar tragedy,” the senators wrote.
Senators Markey and Warren requested the information by Sept. 19.
Columbia Gas joining recovery effort
Columbia Gas will donate $10 million to the Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund, a recovery foundation to help both the individuals and businesses affected by the gas explosions.
Columbia Gas President Steve Bryant announced the donation on Tuesday in Lawrence, where Gov. Charlie Baker met with Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera and other local leaders to give an update on disaster relief for the thousands of victims.
“The citizens of greater Lawrence are truly hurting, and our hearts go out to the entire community,” Bryant said in a statement. “The people of these communities expect us to provide comprehensive and meaningful support, and we are committed to doing so. In addition to the direct assistance we are providing — and will continue to provide — to our customers, this contribution represents our commitment to the long-term recovery of the entire community.”
The donation comes in the wake of criticisms against Columbia Gas for the way it responded to the gas explosions and ensuing crisis. Baker declared a state of emergency following the disaster on Friday. Also that day, Rivera said that Columbia Gas was “the least informed and the last to act” in response to the explosions, and said the company’s officials were “hiding from the problem.”
Baker first announced the Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund on Monday. A separate fund, the Lawrence Emergency Fund, has been receiving donations to help those affected by the gas explosions, but Rivera said that that city charity, which is nearly a decade old, was created to aid victims of fires and natural disasters. The gas explosions are too much of a large-scale recovery effort for that fund, so officials are designating a separate fund.
Once the Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund is up and running, the donations made to the Lawrence Emergency Fund will be combined with the new foundation. Both funds will support those affected by the gas explosions in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.
“The gas explosions in greater Lawrence have devastated families and displaced many people, and this generous contribution from Columbia Gas will help residents with immediate needs,” Bake said in a statement. “This donation will jumpstart efforts to support the Merrimack Valley with access to short-term assistance and services during a most difficult time.”