BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — The utility company at the center of last year's Merrimack Valley gas explosions—and last week's Lawrence gas leak—has been ordered to halt all non-emergency work by the Department of Public Utilities due to "significant" safety concerns.
In addition, the DPU is opening up a formal investigation into Columbia Gas.
In a letter sent to Columbia Gas President Marc Kempic, DPU Chairman Matthew Nelson cites the fact that Columbia Gas did not follow proper procedures relating to abandoned service lines in the Merrimack Valley in banning the company's work in Massachusetts.
Last Friday's leak in Lawrence was found to have been caused by crews closing a gas gate that was supposed to have been disabled a year ago. As a result, dozens of homes and businesses were evacuated, and the city re-lived the nightmare of the fires and explosions of September 2018.
"If the company had followed those procedures, the gate boxes would have been removed or made inaccessible, preventing the subsequent Grade 1 gas leak, service shutoffs, and forced evacuations," the letter read.
The letter was shared on Twitter by Massachusetts State Representative Christina Minicucci.
"Big news re: Columbia Gas - apparently it takes a dozen warnings," she wrote. "While this might seem like a victory, it’s only the beginning. We need to use Sept 13 as a guide to make good policy to prevent this from happening again."
Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera welcomed the news.
"These actions are really appropriate," Rivera said. "This moratorium is exactly what we need for Columbia Gas to show us, the affected communities and really the Commonwealth, that they can walk and chew gum at the same time when it comes to public safety and running this utility."
The work does not apply to any "previously identified" projects having to deal with abandoned gas services and gate boxes throughout the Merrimack Valley.
WBZ NewsRadio's Karyn Regal (@Karynregal) reports