A break in a natural gas main in Andover disrupted service to hundreds of customers and snarled traffic in the River Road area last week. But it could have been much worse.
The high-pressure main was struck and damaged by a construction company digging a trench for a sewer line extension on River Road. The break sent a 20-foot high geyser of natural gas and debris into the air for nearly four hours as the gas company struggled to shut down the line.
Now, Columbia Gas and the contractor, MDR Construction of Tewksbury, are trading accusations over who is to blame for the accident. MDR’s president says the location of the gas line was not properly marked on the roadway. The gas company insists the line was properly marked.
So an investigation planned by the state Department of Public Utilities is welcome. The incident disrupted gas service to 260 customers. Electricity was shut off to nearly 700 customers, including two schools, as officials sought to prevent a potential source of ignition for the escaping gas. The high volume of gas that was released could have produced a tremendous explosion. The investigation should also determine who will be responsible for the costs of the incident.
More importantly, the investigation may suggest ways to prevent these kinds of accidents in the future.
On Thursday, an employee of MDR was digging a 17-foot deep trench for the sewer line when he hit the 6-inch, plastic, high-pressure gas line. Columbia Gas had difficulty shutting off the flow of gas because a valve near the break was covered with asphalt, a company spokeswoman said. Eventually, the company was able to pinch the line closed.
Columbia Gas spokeswoman Andrea Luppi said on Thursday that the gas line was properly marked. But MDR Construction President Mike Saccone said the line was not where it was supposed to be.