Firefighters work to extinguish a fire caused by over pressurized gas lines on September 13, 2018 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WBZ NewsRadio) — On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) assembled in the nation's capitol and, for the first time, laid out its massive and intricate year-long investigation into the Merrimack Valley gas explosions—as well as what it says must be done so that similar incidents don't happen again.
The board, which oversees pipeline safety, was tasked with investigating the September 13, 2018 disaster in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover that left one person dead, dozens injured, and scores of structures damaged or destroyed.
The NTSB said they are making their last revisions to a final report on their investigation, but have released an executive synopsis of that report.
Read The NTSB's Executive Summary Here:
NTSB Chair Robert Sumwalt was on the ground in Lawrence following the explosions and fires, and on Tuesday, was in the center chair in D.C., asking questions of the investigators.
Sumwalt and others expressed astonishment at the failures of Columbia Gas, the company that operated the pipeline that was being worked on on that fateful day.
"The project was not done right," Sumwalt said. "It was done wrong."
After much discussion, the board found weak engineering management was the probable cause of the explosions. Another issue was that the company didn't know where their own infrastructure was.
"It's amazing to me that a company that operated this system for more than 100 years could not produce a map, a readily-made map, to firefighters to show them the extent of the system," said investigator Robert Hall.
Investigators were also left wondering how the company couldn't turn off the gas when the explosions began, and why it could not respond to the public for hours.
"That question is eating at my heart from the day we arrived," Hall said. "[I've been having] a really rough time trying to figure out how this happened."
Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said in a statement that the final NTSB report brought "much needed information and closure."
"For the first time, we are seeing the whole picture of how disorganized, unprepared and overwhelmed Columbia Gas was in dealing with the disaster," the mayor's statement read. "We also see a full accounting of the missteps and orchestra of engineering failures that led to the explosions and fires throughout Greater Lawrence."
Rivera said he believes there is enough evidence in the NTSB report to revoke Columbia Gas's license to operate in the Commonwealth.
"The removal of their license is, in part, to punish Columbia Gas, but more importantly, sets a standard for utilities to place community safety above all else," Rivera wrote. "Short of the removal of their license, the culture that comes through in this report, that bred this disaster, will not change."
NiSource, Columbia Gas's parent company, called the report "an important step in the effort to enhance pipeline safety," and did not shy away from their part in the tragedy.
"Our own understanding of the events generally aligns with that of the NTSB," the company wrote. "We welcome today’s action by the NTSB because it will help us, our industry partners, the public, and others learn from this tragedy. As we’ve said since that tragic day, we take responsibility for what happened."
The board wants all of NiSource's companies to implement changes; it did point out Columbia Gas and NiSource have been doing that in the year since the disaster.
WBZ NewsRadio's Karyn Regal (@Karynregal) reports