With 95% of gas meters relit as of Dec. 5, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts appears to be on track to meet its self-imposed deadline to restore natural gas service to Massachusetts in the wake of a series of massive gas explosions. The Sept. 13 explosions resulted in the death of one man, injured several others and damaged or destroyed more than 130 buildings.
Just before completing about 45-miles of pipeline and nearly 6,000 service lines in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover three weeks early on Oct. 30, Columbia Gas announced full gas service would not be completed until Dec. 19—about month after the initial Nov. 19 deadline to fully complete the project, because restoration work inside homes and businesses was more complicated than originally thought.
On Dec. 5, however, Columbia announced in a statement that full gas service to more than 8,000 customers affected by the explosions was nearly complete. Joe Albanese, chief recovery officer for the effort, said “With the exception of a few meters, the only remaining customers who need to have gas service restored are customers that chose to complete the work in their home and businesses themselves, independently of Columbia Gas contractors—a process referred to as self-mitigation.”
Albanese said his team is “renewing our offer to have Columbia Gas contractors assist self-mitigating customers however they may need. We have ample resources immediately available, qualified and ready to assist in the Merrimack Valley.”
The fires and explosions, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, occurred while a contracted crew was installing a plastic distribution main. The crew left in place the existing cast-iron distribution main that still had its pressure regulator-sensing lines on it. When the old main was disconnected, pressure dropped in the section with the regulator-sensing lines, according to NTSB, causing the regulator to widen and over pressurize the system.
Now that gas service is almost entirely restored, Albanese said hie will ramp down his “large team of contracting resources, such as plumbers and tradesman."
And while he said gas service will be restored more quickly to customers that use Columbia Gas resources, recent media reports have recounted instances of carbon monoxide leaks from equipment installed by Columbia crews. In one case, a woman was hospitalized. Another woman was injured when a sudden flame bursting from a stove installed by a Columbia crew burned her.
“As we work toward full restoration, we are not leaving any customer behind, and we want to make sure those self-mitigating customers know the resources of the recovery effort are here to help them get over the finish line,” Albanese said. “We want to hear their problems and help fix them.”