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Feds Recommend New Requirements After Merrimack Valley Gas Explosions

The National Transportation Safety Board meets in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to discuss and vote on its final report about the Merrimack Valley explosions

What to Know

  • On Sept. 13, 2018, a series of explosions caused by over-pressurized natural gas lines devastated the Merrimack Valley.
  • More than 100 homes were on fire, an 18-year-old man was killed and at least 25 people injured in the disaster.
  • Lawrence, North Andover and Andover residents were without heat or hot water for months, even during winter.

Federal officials are recommending stronger nationwide requirements for natural gas systems following last September's natural gas explosions and fires in Massachusetts.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that gas utilities should be required to install gas additional safeguards to pipeline systems similar to the one involved in the Sept. 13, 2018, disaster.

It also recommended states require all natural gas infrastructure projects be reviewed by a licensed professional engineer.

The board concluded Columbia Gas of Massachusetts poorly planned a routine pipeline replacement project and then inadequately responded to the disaster.

A Columbia Gas spokesman said the report will help the company, natural gas industry and others learn from the tragedy.

A teenager died, dozens of other people were injured and more than 100 structures were damaged in the incident.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said in his opening statements that the incident was triggered by gas lines that became over-pressurized during a pipeline replacement of an old cast iron gas main.

Sumwalt said the replacement project was "done wrong. 

"Done right, that cast iron replacement is part of a risk mitigation strategy to prevent natural gas releases, due to leakage from aging cast iron piping," he said. "But those two little words, 'done right,' cover a lot of scenarios, and NiSource’s risk assessments and safety review covered fewer."

The findings came a year after a teenager died, dozens of other people were injured and more than 100 structures were damaged in the explosions that rocked Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

Sen. Ed Markey slammed NiSource following the NTSB meeting. 

“No pipeline company should ever be allowed to cut corners on safety in order to cut down on costs, and no safety regulator should be allowed to look the other way when it comes to ensuring the pipelines traveling between our homes, schools, and businesses are safe," Markey said in a statement. 

Markey said the NTSB had agreed to visit Lawrence in October to discuss its findings with community members. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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