NTSB: Columbia Gas Unlicensed Engineer Error Led to Mass. Tragedy

Ever see a someone’s name listed on a business card or in a directory, and there’s a “PE” after his or her name? Know what that means? It means Professional Engineer. To get a PE, an engineer must complete a four-year college degree, work under a Professional Engineer for at least four years, pass two intensive competency exams and earn a license from their state’s licensure board. The engineer who drafted plans for NiSource Columbia Gas to replace gas mains about 25 miles north of Boston, in Lawrence, MA, didn’t have a PE after his name. And the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says it was his fault that when the gas main was replaced, the old main still had sensors that detected low pressure and kept pressurizing (overpressurizing) the gas system that led to multiple explosions and one person dying, 25 injured, and 8,000 residences and business still without natural gas service some two months later.
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Columbia Gas Moves Date Back to Dec. on Fixes re Boston Tragedy

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts (NiSource) continues to try and recover (physically and reputationally) from a series of explosions in its local delivery pipelines north of Boston in mid-September (see Local NatGas Pipes Explode Near Boston Killing 1, Injuring 25). The explosions and resulting fires tragically killed one teenager and injured 25 others. It left some 8,600 households and businesses without natural gas–for months. In early October, Columbia said it would replace all ~48 miles of natural gas mains, and all 6,100 affected service lines, by Nov. 19 (see Columbia’s Master Plan to Restore Gas Service in Mass. by Nov 19). While the main lines will be done early, by tomorrow in fact, Columbia, in something of a public relations disaster, is pushing back the date of finishing the service lines by about a month, into December. Meanwhile, the family of the teenager who was killed is preparing a wrongful death lawsuit.
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Columbia Gas Already 80% Done Replacing 48 Miles of Exploded Pipes

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts (NiSource) continues to try and recover from a series of explosions in its local delivery pipelines north of Boston in mid-September (see Local NatGas Pipes Explode Near Boston Killing 1, Injuring 25). The explosions and resulting fires tragically killed one teenager and injured 25 others. It left some 8,600 households and businesses without natural gas–for months. In early October, Columbia said it would replace all ~48 miles of natural gas mains, and all 6,100 affected service lines, by Nov. 19 (see Columbia’s Master Plan to Restore Gas Service in Mass. by Nov 19). To Columbia’s credit, 80% of the mains are already done, and over half of the service lines.
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NTSB Report: Columbia Gas Bad Work Order Caused Explosions

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has just released a preliminary report on what caused a series of explosions and fires in a natural gas pipeline system 25 miles northwest of Boston in mid-September (see Local NatGas Pipes Explode Near Boston Killing 1, Injuring 25). The NTSB confirmed that the cause was overpressurized pipes due to workers capping off an old pipeline that contained sensors telling the system to pump more gas than needed. The question becomes, Who’s at fault? NTSB says the fault lies clearly Columbia Gas themselves.
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Antis Want Mass. Residents Affected by Blast to Give Up NatGas

We’ve extensively covered the tragic accident and aftermath of Columbia Gas’ natural gas delivery pipelines exploding near Boston in mid-September. The explosions and resulting fires tragically killed one teenager and injured 25 others. It left some 8,600 households and businesses without natural gas–for months. Now anti-fossil fuel advocates say those 8,600 households should just forget about natural gas, forever, and instead convert to sky-high electric for their energy needs. They call it a “green new deal”–meaning make Columbia Gas pay to convert your home to all-electric appliances and heat pumps. We call it a “green raw deal.”
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Columbia’s Master Plan to Restore Gas Service in Mass. by Nov 19

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts continues to try and recover from early missteps in how it responded to a series of explosions in its local delivery pipelines north of Boston in mid-September (see Local NatGas Pipes Explode Near Boston Killing 1, Injuring 25). The explosions and resulting fires tragically killed one teenager and injured 25 others. It left some 8,600 households and businesses without natural gas–for months. Yesterday Columbia released a detailed plan for how they will replace all ~48 miles of pipeline and get everyone back online by Nov. 19.
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Columbia Appoints Chief Restoration Officer After Boston Disaster

Pablo Vegas, NiSource’s new Chief Restoration Officer

Today we have another chapter in the unfolding story of the chain-reaction of explosions in local natural gas delivery pipelines owned by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts (NiSource) which happened about 25 miles north of Boston (see Local NatGas Pipes Explode Near Boston Killing 1, Injuring 25). The explosions and resulting fires tragically killed one teenager and injured 25 others. It left some 8,600 households and businesses without natural gas–for up to two months. Earlier this week MDN reported that Columbia/NiSource has appointed an outside-the-company “Chief Recovery Officer” at the prompting of Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker (see Columbia Gas Appoints Ret. Navy Captain to Oversee Disaster Recovery). Retired Navy Captain Joe Albanese, founder and CEO of Commodore Builders (construction management firm) is the new CRO attempting to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Assisting Captain Albanese is retired Rear Admiral Richard Cellon, president of Cellon and Associates. Columbia announced yesterday the creation of a new inside-the-company position called Chief Restoration Officer. Pablo Vegas will serve in the Chief Restoration Officer role. Vegas will “support the work” of CRO Albanese, and will be accountable “for executing the restoration program, including pipeline replacement, customer mitigation and house readiness” as well as “community and customer support efforts in the region.” Perhaps NiSource needs fewer “chiefs” and more Indians?…
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Columbia Gas Appoints Ret. Navy Captain to Oversee Disaster Recovery

More coverage in our ongoing coverage of the aftermath resulting from a chain-reaction of explosions in local natural gas delivery pipelines about 25 miles north of Boston (see Local NatGas Pipes Explode Near Boston Killing 1, Injuring 25). The explosions and resulting fires tragically killed one teenager and injured 25 others. It left some 8,600 households and businesses without natural gas–for up to two months. Can you imagine not being able to cook meals, or heat your home, because of no natural gas? What will those people do in the meantime? Columbia Gas (part of NiSource), whose pipelines are the ones that exploded, began distributing some 7,000 electric hot plates over the weekend. Gov. Charlie Baker mobilized the Massachusetts National Guard to help. Since Gov. Baker also requested an “outside contractor” to take charge of the situation, Columbia announced they have appointed retired Navy Captain Joe Albanese, founder and CEO of Commodore Builders (a construction management firm) to become the Chief Recovery Officer in attempting to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Assisting Captain Albanese will be retired Rear Admiral Richard Cellon, president of Cellon and Associates. Cellon has loads of experience in construction in the Middle East–helping war-torn areas recover. It’s already getting cold in New England, so beginning this week Columbia has a hoard of electricians, plumbers, and “assessors” working to assess and install some 24,000 space heaters in homes. It’s no small feat. Local fire departments are involved to ensure the space heaters don’t create a fire hazard…
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Subcontractor Working on Exploded Boston-area Pipes Identified

We continue to track the story we first brought you on Monday of this week, that late last week there was a chain-reaction of explosions in local natural gas delivery pipelines about 25 miles north of Boston (see Local NatGas Pipes Explode Near Boston Killing 1, Injuring 25). The explosions and resulting fires tragically killed one teenager and injured 25 others. Local officials ordered some 8,600 residents and businesses in the three communities to evacuate–until Sunday. A major incident. The ramifications of this situation will go on for years. Although it’s still early in the investigation process, the cause of the explosions appears to be a combination of old/decaying pipes with too much pressure flowing through them. According to an NTSB spokesman, the early indicators are that a pressure sensor is the cause (see Pressure in Exploded Massachusetts Pipes 12X More than Normal). Here’s what *may have* happened: A pressure sensor that controls how much gas is pumped through local pipelines was attached to a portion of a pipeline that was capped at both ends and closed off. The sensor detected little-to-no pressure, so it signaled the system to keep increasing the pressure, to flow more gas. The pressure eventually reached 12 times what it should have been, and the older cast iron and steel pipelines couldn’t take it, resulting in explosions and fires. The question turns to who capped off the pipeline with the sensors? Who was working on pipelines in that community on that day? A Boston TV station tracked down the who…
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Further Thoughts on Columbia Gas Disaster in Massachusetts

We spotted an announcement by Columbia Gas (subsidiary of NiSource) that says they are withdrawing a rate case–their request filed earlier this year with Massachusetts to increase natural gas rates by $33 million. Probably a good idea in light of the recent tragedy (see Local NatGas Pipes Explode Near Boston Killing 1, Injuring 25). The rate case got us to thinking about the recent tragedy. It dawns on us that there’s a fair bit of irony in this tragedy–a lesson we can learn. For years political leaders in states like Massachusetts and New York, heavily influenced by radical environmentalists (afraid of their power and money) have trash-talked natural gas. Those leaders, people like Elizabeth Warren and Maura Healey in MA and Andrew Cuomo in NY, have told their constituents that natural gas is evil, it’s “dirty,” it’s unnecessary. “We don’t need more pipelines that will perpetuate another 50 years or more of dependence and reliance on these filthy fossil fuels” has been their message. And so, they are directly responsible for rejecting new pipeline projects to bring cheap Marcellus gas to New York and New England, on the theory that magical, unicorn-like “renewables” will ride in to save the day. “In fact…” (they say), “…if we only had ‘the will,’ we could end our use of evil fossil fuels right NOW, today. Certainly in another 10 or 20 years at most.” And then this explosion occurs, this disaster that killed one, injured 25 and burned some 80 homes and businesses. Columbia has pledged to replace 48 miles of underground delivery pipeline. In the meantime (please don’t misunderstand us here)–some 8,600 homes and businesses are now living what the politicians and radical environmentalists have preached for years–no gas. They are without gas for weeks–likely for months. Can you imagine no gas for your stove to cook with? No hot water for showers or laundry? And as the temps drop, no heat to stay warm? While we’re not excited nor happy to see this (quite the opposite), we’d like to ask those 8,600 homes and businesses–what do you think of your no-gas future now? Is this how you want to live, not only today, but 10 or 20 years down the road? Can you really live without natural gas? Perhaps this situation will give them, and us, a new perspective on all this senseless talk of replacing natural gas with renewables…
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Lawsuits Begin re Columbia Gas Boston-area Pipe Explosions

Last Thursday a major accident occurred 25 miles northwest of Boston when natgas delivery pipelines owned by Columbia Gas (NiSource) in three communities exploded and caught fire at more than 80 locations (see Local NatGas Pipes Explode Near Boston Killing 1, Injuring 25). The explosions and resulting fires tragically killed one teenager and injured some 25 others. Local officials ordered some 8,600 residents and businesses in the three communities to evacuate–until Sunday. A major incident. The ramifications of this situation will go on for years. Columbia Gas immediately pledged to replace all of the pipelines feeding homes and businesses in the three communities in the coming weeks and months. We expect it will be months before gas service is back online. In what is a worthy response (as well as good PR), Columbia yesterday pledged to donate $10 million to the the Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund to assist families affected by the blast. Our immediate thought was, “While this is a welcomed first step, don’t for a minute think Columbia is getting off cheap. The lawsuits haven’t even begun. In the end, this episode will cost Columbia, at a minimum, hundreds of millions. Maybe over $1 billion. $10M is chump change.” And by golly, a few minutes later we spotted a story that the first class action lawsuit has just been filed. It’s the first of what likely will be many…
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Local NatGas Pipes Explode Near Boston Killing 1, Injuring 25

You don’t often think of the safety of the pipeline network that delivers natural gas to your home or business because it’s so rare there are any problems with it. When’s the last time you heard about a local delivery pipeline exploding? Last Thursday a major incident occurred 25 miles northwest of Boston when delivery pipelines owned by Columbia Gas (NiSource) in three communities–Andover, North Andover and Lawrence–exploded and caught fire at “more than 60 locations.” The explosions and resulting fires tragically killed one teenager and injured some 25 others. Local officials ordered over 8,000 residents and businesses in the three communities to evacuate, turning off electric and gas. Each house and business was then tested before turning electricity back on (gas is still off). Residents were finally able to return to their homes on Sunday. It’s a huge incident, a big, fat, stinking mess. Folks waited in lines for hours at claims centers to file requests for reimbursement for hotels and expenses after being displaced from their homes–only to have the claims centers close because Columbia couldn’t handle the numbers. On Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency in the three communities. Later in the day on Friday, he invoked a little-used (and little-known) provision in the state constitution that allowed him to take management of the crisis away from Columbia/NiSource, giving management of the crisis to a competitor, Eversource. Although it’s still early in the investigation process, the cause of the explosions appears to be a combination of old/decaying pipes with too much pressure flowing through them. Attention has turned to pressure sensors along the pipelines. Yesterday Columbia/NiSource announced it will replace all 48 miles of the cast iron and bare steel pipeline system in that area. Meanwhile, the affected 8,000+ residents and businesses will not have gas service restored “for weeks” at a minimum…
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M-U Companies Collaborate with Eco Group on Pipeline Report

Over the years the Nature Conservancy, whose mission is “to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends,” has put its support behind restrictive, anti-drilling measures. However, they’re not typically one of the Big Green groups that actively goes out of its way to block all fossil fuel extraction. They’re not as bad as the Sierra Club, or NRDC, or Earthworks. In what is perhaps a new chapter in cooperation with the industry (sure to get them tossed off the Christmas card list by other Big Green groups), the Nature Conservancy worked with eight of the largest pipeline companies in the U.S. (all but one with operations in the Marcellus/Utica) to produce a report titled, “Improving Steep-Slope Pipeline Construction to Reduce Impacts to Natural Resources” (full copy below). The report’s aim is to provide a list of best practice aimed at reducing the environmental impacts of natural gas pipeline construction. Particularly in areas prone to landslides. Working with Nature Conservancy on the report was Dominion Energy, Enbridge, EQT Midstream Partners, Kinder Morgan, NiSource, Southern Company Gas, UGI Energy Services and Williams–all of which have committed to adopting the guidelines put forth in the report. Notice that Nature Conservancy’s approach is not “never build another pipeline again”–as it is for most Big Green groups (including the ones we listed above). Instead, Nature Conservancy worked with pipeline companies to develop standards and practices that will protect the environment, while still allowing for pipeline construction. That is, they are being reasonable. Hats off to the Nature Conservancy for their efforts and reasonableness. Unfortunately for them, they are now sure to be ostracized by their Big Green brethren…
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Columbia Gas Customers in OH Start Using M-U Gas in April

We often write about pipeline projects in the Marcellus/Utica and their mission to move our prodigious natgas production to new markets where the gas will fetch a higher price. Last fall MDN provided a list of 15 active pipeline projects in our region, aimed at moving our gas to new markets (see List of 15 Active Marcellus/Utica Pipeline Projects Worth $23B). However, sometimes the “new” markets these pipelines serve are located–right here, in the M-U region! That’s right. Not all gas needs to go to the South, the Southwest, Midwest or get exported to Canada and beyond. Sometimes new market demand is hidden in plain sight. Such is the case for Columbia Gas (owned by NiSource) in Ohio. The company said it has “changed our portfolio around” to source locally extracted Marcellus/Utica gas for “at least 40%” and “likely much more” of the gas it sells to its customers. The change to using Marcellus/Utica gas will begin in April. Among the pipelines that will flow the M-U gas Columbia will buy is the recently completed Leach XPress (see Leach XPress Goes Online; FERC Approves Mountaineer & Gulf XPress). Here’s the good news that our own gas will serve those in our own region…
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NiSource 1Q16: The Gas & Electric Business is Quite Profitable

NiSource service area
NiSource service area

NiSource and Columbia Pipeline split up last summer (see NiSource/Columbia Pipeline Divorce is Final). Columbia retained the midstream business and is the more active of the two in the Marcellus/Utica Shale. However, NiSource with its Columbia Gas utility business is still an important user of Marcellus/Utica Shale gas–and therefore of interest to us. Yesterday NiSource issued their first quarter 2016 update. Being in the utility business ain’t a bad life. Pretty reliable income, even if it is regulated. In 1Q16 NiSource made $309.5 million before income taxes were paid, compared with $275.4 million in 1Q15 (a 12% increase). Below is the update for NiSource’s natgas and electric utility businesses…
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