Columbia Gas files plan with DPU

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff file photoThe Department of Public Utilities is reviewing a plan filed Monday by Columbia Gas on how the company plans to address 2,200 locations across the Merrimack Valley at which interior gas meters were moved outside of homes and businesses during last year’s rebuild of the damaged system.

LAWRENCE — The Department of Public Utilities is reviewing a plan filed Monday by Columbia Gas on how the company plans to address 2,200 locations across the Merrimack Valley at which interior gas meters were moved outside of homes and businesses during last year’s rebuild of the damaged system.

The plan was a required by the DPU following a revelation in early September that a number of pipes had been abandoned around homes and businesses when new gas service was installed. At that time, the company was ordered to inspect some 713 meter replacements in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence.

But the urgency and breadth of the problem grew after a major gas line break on Sept. 27 when a contractor working for the city of Lawrence mistook a gas meter for a water meter, puncturing a piece of new pipe and causing a mass evacuation and electricity and gas shutdown.

Shortly after that disaster, the DPU sent out another letter ordering the company to inspect more gas line hook-ups.

“By Oct. 7, 2019, Columbia Gas shall submit a detailed work plan to the DPU describing how it intends to address the estimated 2,200 locations, at which an inside meter set was moved outside the property as part of the abandoned service work completed during the Merrimack Valley restoration,” said the letter from Matthew Nelson, chairman of the DPU. “This work plan shall set forth a date certain by which Columbia Gas shall complete the work. The department expects that all required inspections and remediation efforts will be completed at these locations in an expeditious manner.”

Katie Gronendyke, press secretary for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which oversees the DPU, said the company met the deadline.

“Columbia Gas submitted this work plan on time today, and DPU is reviewing,” she said.

The details of the plan were unavailable.

Columbia Gas spokesman Scott Ferson did not return calls or emails for comment.

The next deadline for Columbia Gas is Oct. 18, by which time the company “shall complete quality control work on abandoned services where the insertion technique was used (covering approximately 713 homes) to assure that the work it performed on these abandoned services as part of the Merrimack Valley restoration is in compliance with Massachusetts and federal law. The Department expects that this work will be completed at a rate of about 50 homes inspected and remediated per day.”

The third order from the DPU contained in the Oct. 1 enforcement letter stated that the company would be required to hire a third-party, outside consultant to conduct a full audit of all the work Columbia Gas has done since the Sept. 13, 2018 gas disaster.

“Columbia Gas shall pay for (the) audit, to be contracted through the DPU, of all gas pipeline work completed as part of the Merrimack Valley restoration effort,” said the letter. “Such audit will evaluate compliance with Massachusetts and federal law, as well as any other operational or safety risks that may be posed by the pipeline work. The audit will investigate Columbia Gas’s operations in the Lawrence Division and other service territories as appropriate, either independently or as part of the statewide gas safety assessment already underway.”

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