U.S. Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren this week pledged to get to the bottom of what caused a series of gas explosions in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover last month, arguing that the NTSB’s new preliminary report on the deadly incident raises more questions than it answers.
The Massachusetts Democrats offered that while the National Transportation Safety Board’s Thursday report confirms Columbia Gas’ role in the Sept. 13 explosions, the findings also suggest the incident may have been preventable.
Arguing that the residents of Merrimack Valley and all Americans deserve to know what caused the explosions, which damaged homes, injured dozens and killed at least one person, the senators reaffirmed their commitment to continue pushing for such information.
Markey told reporters Friday that the NTSB report largely affirms what the residents of Merrimack Valley already know: “That Columbia Gas did not do enough to prevent this and did not respond fast enough to the disaster.”
He added that while the preliminary findings offer additional context on the timeline of events surrounding the explosions, “there are many unanswered questions” that NTSB failed to address
The senator, for example, said the report does not answer how the incident could have occurred or if it could have been prevented.
Other lingering questions, he offered, include: Whether Columbia Gas was adequately prepared to respond to a system-wide disaster; why it took hours to shut down critical valves; and how first responders were informed of the incident.
Markey further argued that his own review of Columbia Gas’ safety operations and response plans, coupled with the NTSB report’s findings, suggest “the company was woefully unprepared for a disaster of this magnitude.”
“The company manual says, in response to a high-pressure alarm: ‘The local personnel shall take the appropriate steps to control the flow of gas.’ They include no further details on the specific steps that should be taken,” he said. “Clearly, Columbia Gas needed those details before the disaster. This is like if you tried to give someone directions home and all you said was, ‘Drive you car to your house.'”
Markey, who along with Warren called on Congress to look into the Sept. 13 explosions, noted that federal lawmakers will conduct a November hearing in Merrimack Valley. He did not provide further details surrounding the event.
The senator stressed that he and Warren “will not stop until (they) get the answers to each of and every one those questions and many other questions.”
“The people of Merrimack Valley deserve the answers, but so don’t the people in every other community in America to ensure that this never happens again,” he said.
Warren, who said the report “confirms that Columbia Gas caused this disaster, and that it appears to have been preventable,” echoed Markey’s commitment to finding out what happened in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.
“We will continue to press for more details from Columbia Gas, from NTSB and from all other authorities involved, so that we can prevent a situation like this from happening again,” she said in a statement, calling the explosions “unacceptable.”
Markey and Warren have also called on on NiSource President and CEO Joe Hamrock — whose company operates Columbia Gas of Massachusetts — to provide information on what led to the series of gas explosions in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover.
The NTSB report, released Thursday, detailed the explosions and fires caused by over-pressurization of a Columbia Gas distribution system.
It suggested that a crew working to replace a gas line in Lawrence neglected to remove the pressure sensors from the old line — an error that is believed to have triggered a flood of high pressure through the system, resulting in fires, explosions and damage to more than 80 Merrimack Valley homes.
The report noted that the board’s investigation remains ongoing.
Hamrock, in response to the preliminary report, said NiSource is “fully cooperating with the NTSB and provided information to assist in its ongoing investigation into relevant facts related to the event, the probable cause and its development of safety recommendations.”
“As a party to the NTSB investigation, we are prohibited from discussing or speculating on the cause of the incident or facts related to it until the NTSB has completed its work. However, we can say that, because safety is our top priority, in the hours immediately after the incident we suspended similar work and enhanced procedures related to our low pressure systems,” he said in a statement. “We saw these as responsible steps to take in the aftermath of the incident and while the facts were being gathered.”