BOSTON (CBS) — The Department of Public Utilities has ordered a moratorium on Columbia Gas work until December 1. The gas company was working on a gas pipe when the system was over-pressurized, causing dozens of explosions and fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover Sept. 13.

“In light of the NTSB’s preliminary report and to ensure a commitment to a safe
distribution system, the Department hereby requires that, unless the Department explicitly approves other work, Columbia shall perform only emergency and required compliance work on the gas distribution system,” said a letter send Columbia Gas President Steven Bryant Friday.

According to the NTSB’s preliminary report, “the distribution main that was abandoned still had the regulator sensing lines that were used to detect pressure in the distribution system and provide input to the regulators to control the system pressure. Once the contractor crews disconnected the distribution main that was going to be abandoned, the section containing the sensing lines began losing pressure…Columbia Gas developed and approved the work package executed on the day of the accident. The work package did not account for the location of the sensing lines or require their relocation to ensure the regulators were sensing actual system pressure.”

The moratorium does not affect recovery efforts in the Merrimack Valley. The DPU is also working to hire an independent evaluator to assess the safety of the natural gas system statewide.

Immediately following the September incident, Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency and placed Eversource as the lead in all Merrimack Valley recovery efforts.

An 18-year-old man was killed, 21 people were sent to the hospital, 131 buildings were damaged (at least five homes were completely destroyed), by the fires and explosions, according to the NTSB.


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