The state Department of Public Utilities announced recently it would be holding two public hearings as part of its investigation into the Sept. 13, 2018 Columbia Gas disaster.

One hearing will be held Jan. 29 in Lawrence and another is scheduled for Feb. 10 in Andover.

The hearings are being held to gather testimony from residents and business owners affected by the blast that damaged or destroyed 131 homes and businesses, injured 22 people and caused the death of one person.

The DPU is also accepting written testimony.

The input from people affected by the blast is part of a two-pronged investigation by the DPU.

In one investigation, the state utilities watchdog is looking at the gas company’s responsibility for the incident, as well as its restoration efforts following the explosions.

The second investigation is looking at the gas company’s preparation and response to the incident, including whether there was “safe and ... prompt restoration.”

The second investigation, which appears to be much broader, will also look into whether the company disseminated information in a timely manner, and how well it communicated with state, municipal and public safety officials as well as the DPU itself.

The state investigation follows the federal investigation, which was completed by the National Transportation Safety Board last fall.

That report found that Columbia Gas was at fault due to “weak engineering management” on a project to replace an old cast iron main with a new polyethylene main. During that work, the construction crew failed to relocate pressure sensors to the new line. When they started pumping gas through the new line, there was no sensor indicating that there was any gas in the line, so the pressure continued to increase. Eventually it increased so high that it forced high-pressure gas into what was originally designed as a low-pressure system. 

The investigation found that the gas was forced into homes and businesses at a very high pressure, turning regular pilot lights into flame throwers that ignited everything in their path.

In a couple of cases, the gas caused explosions. Ultimately, a number of homes in Lawrence had to be demolished. An 18-year-old man died when a house exploded, knocking the chimney of the house onto the car he was sitting in, crushing him in the driver’s seat. 

The DPU could potentially fine the company millions of dollars, depending on the outcome of the investigation. 

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera has gone farther than that, calling for state and federal regulators to yank the operating permit away from Columbia Gas so that it could no longer operate in the Merrimack Valley.

 

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If you go:

The Department of Public Utilities is holding two public hearings to receive comment on two investigations into the Sept. 13, 2018 gas disaster.

The first one will be in Lawrence.

When: 6 p.m., Jan. 29

Where: North Common Education Campus, 233 Haverhill St.

 

The second hearing will be in Andover.

When: 6 p.m., Feb. 10

Where: J. Everett Collins Center for the Performing Arts, 100 Shawsheen Road.

Purpose: To take public testimony on the gas disaster from home and business owners affected by the disaster.

 

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