- Department of Public Utilities
- Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Media Contact for State of Emergency Terminated for Merrimack Valley Gas Incident
Craig Gilvarg, Press Secretary
Boston — Today, Governor Charlie Baker terminated the State of Emergency that was declared following the tragic gas incident in the Merrimack Valley in 2018. On September 14, 2018, Governor Baker declared a State of Emergency for Andover, North Andover and Lawrence authorizing the Chairman of the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to take any action necessary to ensure public safety and welfare and restore gas, electric, and water utility services. Although the State of Emergency is no longer in effect, the DPU will continue to ensure the safety of residents and businesses through its rigorous oversight and inspections of natural gas companies and infrastructure.
“The termination of the State of Emergency is an important milestone in the Commonwealth’s recovery from the tragic gas incident in the Merrimack Valley,” said DPU Chairman Matthew Nelson. “Under Governor Baker’s leadership, we remain committed to supporting the impacted communities and to continually working to ensure the safety of the public and the gas pipeline system.”
To ensure the safe and timely restoration of utility of utility services, under the State of Emergency, DPU authorized Eversource Energy to take management control over the coordinated restoration effort. Columbia Gas was ordered to impose a moratorium on all work, except for emergency and compliance work, and was required to enter into an agreement with Nitsch Engineering to monitor the company’s management of the restoration and recovery work.
Since the incident, the Baker-Polito Administration has continued to prioritize taking action to ensure the safety of the Commonwealth’s residents and energy infrastructure. On December 31, 2018, Governor Baker signed legislation previously filed by the Administration and recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that required all natural gas work that could pose a material risk to public safety be reviewed and approved by a certified professional engineer. The Baker-Polito Administration and the Northeast Gas Association also announced that all natural gas companies in Massachusetts will adopt recommended comprehensive pipeline safety management standards.
The Administration also selected an independent auditor which completed a statewide examination of the safety of the natural gas distribution system and the operational and maintenance functions of natural gas companies in the Commonwealth. Continuation of the State of Emergency declaration through the first eight months of 2020 ensured that the companies, and not taxpayers, paid for this important independent evaluation.
To allow improved oversight of the natural gas system, Governor Baker signed a FY20 budget that included, as recommended in the Governor’s H.1 Budget, an increase of $5.5 million over the DPU’s FY19 budget, for a total of $18 million. Governor Baker’s FY21 budget proposal includes a $2.7 million increase to DPU’s budget, for a total of $21.5 million. The increased funding supports and enhances the Pipeline Safety Division’s critical testing, investigations, and oversight responsibilities to ensure that natural gas distribution companies and other utilities are complying with safety regulations. To expand DPU’s oversight and as a result of the increased funding, DPU has nearly tripled the size of its Pipeline Safety Division since September 2018.
To help communities in the Merrimack Vallery recover, the Baker-Polito Administration leveraged over $13 million in emergency funds for businesses directly impacted by the recent gas explosions in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.
Additionally, the Administration has been committed to holding Columbia Gas accountable for the tragic gas incident and any pipeline safety violations. Following the release of the NTSB’s final report regarding the September 13, 2018 gas incident in Merrimack Valley, the DPU formally opened two public investigations into the incident.
Last month, the Baker-Polito Administration and Attorney General Maura Healey reached an agreement with Columbia Gas that requires the company to pay $56 million for its role in the Merrimack Valley gas explosions and to leave Massachusetts by the upcoming heating season. These funds will provide debt relief to thousands of low-income gas customers and enable energy efficiency efforts in older homes and buildings in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence. The agreement was filed with the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) for approval, and would resolve the DPU’s investigation into the company’s pipeline safety compliance and emergency response related to the September 2018 explosions.