The release of the NTSB final report on the gas disaster of September 13th, 2018 in Greater Lawrence brings some 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. We also see a full accounting of the missteps and orchestra of engineering failures that led to the explosions and fires throughout Greater Lawrence.
Three things in particular in the report reinforce my statements 18 hours after the initial disaster, that Columbia Gas was the “least informed and the last to act”: the report shows Columbia Gas had no access to maps of the systems for first responders, Columbia Gas acted late in shutting down the system, and Columbia Gas had no real command and control at the height of the crisis. Throughout the report, it talks about an emergency response plan and a NiSource emergency manual— no one has ever been able to show me that it existed or that it was here in Lawrence before the incident. Of the 14 findings, 13 and 14 reinforces this point the most.
Lastly, what is evident throughout the whole NTSB report is that this could have been avoided and that Columbia Gas failed to implement its own policies as well as industry wide accepted practices; specifically, a September 2, 2015 NiSource operational notice on how to avoid over pressurizations like the one that happened in Greater Lawrence. The NTSB report makes it abundantly clear that Columbia Gas of Massachusetts failed to meet its obligations for public safety and acted negligently in the years, months and days leading up to the September 13th disaster. I believe there is enough evidence here to constitute the removal of Columbia Gas’s license to distribute gas in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 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. Short of the removal of their license, the culture that comes through in this report, that bred this disaster, will not change.
A link to the final NTSB report is below: