DPU’s Columbia Gas Probe Schedule Still Not Set, Including Valley Hearing

Gov. Charlie Baker, third from left, joined local leaders from Andover, Lawrence and North Andover during a press conference in the wake of the September 2018 explosions and fires across the Merrimack Valley. (Jay Saulnier file photograph for WHAV News.)

It’s been almost two months since state utility regulators opened investigations into the September 2018 overpressurization incident that triggered natural gas explosions in Andover, Lawrence and North Andover, but the schedule for the hearings remains a work in progress.

Baker administration officials, citing the completion of the National Transportation Safety Board's final report, on Oct. 25 opened two Department of Public Utilities investigations into the cause of the incident, the utility’s response to it and whether Columbia Gas complied with state and federal rules. At the time, the department said it would “soon” issue a schedule for the investigations outlining key dates, deadlines for filing testimony and comments and hearing dates, including at least one hearing in the Merrimack Valley.

The investigations will take about a year, officials said. A spokeswoman for the DPU confirmed late last week that the investigation schedule and hearing dates have still not been set. Another key date is approaching: Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems, the company selected by the DPU to conduct a statewide review of the safety of the natural gas distribution, operations and maintenance landscape, is scheduled to complete that review in two weeks, or at the end of 2019.

Safety-oriented steps have been taken in the months since the disaster, and officials say the investigations will ensure that any additional improvements are made. The probe may also result in major financial penalties against the company.

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