Dozens of Homes Burn in Andover and Lawrence, Mass., Gas Explosions

One person was killed and more than 20 were injured in the explosions, which the governor of Massachusetts said were caused by gas leaks.


Comments: 171

  1. Multiple homes destroyed by gas with no warning? Never heard of that. Alex Jones must have some alternate theories...

  2. Is it a coincidence that the Gas workers in Massachusetts are on strike?

  3. Columbia Gas is a totally different company than national grid. In fact, the national grid workers who are locked out (not on strike) offered to help for free.

  4. Is it a coincidence that people who listen to/watch rightwing news sources are misinformed?

  5. @Kenneth Nguyen

    Yes, it is a coincidence.

  6. I have worked the gas company to treat the natural gas to industrial companies for 8 years. I know how the Natural gas is so dangerous. Gas control is difficult to utilize because of entity which cannot be seen by the eye of people. I can imagine easily that people who lives in this town feels scared this gas accident.
    I prey this problem will solve as soon as possible with corporation by the specialist for gas control and firefighters.

  7. The reporting on the after effects of the explosions is of interest. The reporting on the cause is lacking. Not saying it's easy. Just saying it's lacking.

  8. @Johnjam101 Completely agree. I live only 15 minutes north east of these cities, and my apartment complex has heating and cooking gas. I'm going to be terrified until someone gives an explanation.

  9. @Johnjam101
    Gee, do you think there is a possibility that the reason the reporting on the cause is lacking is because they don't yet know the cause? Would you be happier if the media and officials engaged in a lot of uninformed speculation? I, for one, appreciate the restraint that's been shown so far in the reporting on this incident. Instant answers are usually wrong and often dangerous.

  10. @Johnjam101 It's only been a little over 5 hours! Would you rather they make up the reason or get it right?

  11. Real nice.

    They go on strike then sabotage the lines.

    Someone needs to go to jail.

  12. @There
    This utility is Columbia Gas. It has zero to do with the situation at National Grid. Two completely separate entities.

    Take a look at your own prejudice/judgement about who the workers are, who they are affiliated with and what they might do. Wildly incorrect.

  13. The National Grid situation is not a strike. It is a lockout. Where the company locks out the workers.

  14. @There

    The NYT needs to have a look at how they moderate the comments. Your obvious lie is straight out of Breitbart and Alex Jones territory.

  15. The best way describe the mood is one of fear and confusion. Many of my neighbors did not know how to shut off gas main and we ran house to house to check and shut down yesterday. There was confusion about evacuation and now that we have evacuated, no update as to when we will be allowed to return home. What is consider to be the most bizarre is, there is no real update from Columbia Gas, about 5 hours after the incident they issued a general statement and nothing since then.

  16. It amazes me that people will risk their lives for property. A house in my city blew up last year when a gas line was knocked moving a stove. It literally shook my house about a mile away. One of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced. If there’s a gas issue, don’t look for the main, LEAVE.

  17. Follow Seth Moulon on twitter

  18. @Ananth
    My guess; the flak-catchers at Columbia Gas have told management not to say anything because it will be used against them in the forthcoming lawsuits. Prediction: when records are reviewed, it will be determined that well-established maintenance and safety protocols had not been followed. It will be further determined that whatever government oversight is supposed to occur did not, because the responsible agenc(ies) were understaffed &/or underfunded. (Anti-government forces having "starved the beast.")There will be much demanding of accountability, but this will come to nothing as deep corporate pockets outlast the affected homeowners and victims in courts. People will demand that these lapses be corrected, but, as the news of the tragedy dies down, and ordinary people get worn down, the responsible legislatures will vote to let industries "regulate themselves" as usual nowadays. I hope I am wrong about all this, but the scenario I describe seems all too common. I am very sorry for everyone affected.

  19. When the firestorm is over and the dead have been counted, I look forward to reading Trump's tweet claiming credit for this "incredible, unsung success."

  20. @dr brian reid

    I continue to be amazed by the hold the appalling DJT has over some people, even those in other countries.

  21. @dr brian reid I just called out some comments on Fox News' article as puerile because they felt like tying this to Elizabeth Warren. Hoping you'll correct your post so i don't have to say the same about yours. You are not funny, at all. A kid died. 20 people got injured by explosions. 70+ homeowners lost everything.

  22. I hope that the Natural Gas company can afford to a least monetarily compensate these poor home owners for their structural lose. There will be no replacing the emotional cost.

  23. @Richard Mclaughlin
    This is Columbia Gas, different company. But yes, there will be claims for sure.

  24. Hope the FBI is looking into the possibility of hackers taking over the gas utility.

  25. @Andrew If a cyberattack were to occur, this is probably what it would look like. Malware slipped into the gas company's computers intentionally raises the gas pressure beyond the capacity of the pipes, leading to numerous, simultaneous leaks throughout the network. Experts had been warning that many of the computer systems in charge of critical infrastructure were highly vulnerable and had already been hacked, mostly by the Russians. https://www.npr.org/2018/06/19/621338178/journalist-warns-cyber-attacks-...

  26. @Andrew You'll be happy to learn that these systems typically are not set up in a way that can cause that to happen. Mechanical failure or human error caused this. Am betting on human error.

  27. @Andrew - don't know the cause, but local Boston stations WERE reporting that the FBI was on-site. And this was from fairly early on yesterday (5 PM or so).

  28. Meanwhile, in a Columbia Gas office somewhere or back at NiSource's home office in Merrillville, IN, I'll bet some folks are now saying "Well, I guess laying-off those guys that used to supervise and maintain the gas mains pumping station and pressure regulators wasn't our best idea."

  29. @Atlant Schmidt
    Wrong, they don't care. They will place the blame on subcontractors and have insurance that will pay after wearing the homeowners down with years of litigation. Until there is enforcement of real regulations on who does this work, it will just be a soon forgotten minor beep on their spreadsheet.

  30. @Atlant Schmidt The most critical "infrastructure" is a well trained, educated workforce supervised by highly competent, experienced supervisors. They are worth whatever it takes salary wise to keep them around.

  31. The events read like the San Bruno explosion from 2010. Over pressurized gas lines destroying whole neighborhoods.
    My sympathy goes out to those affected. One can only pray that the injuries are not too sever. Thankfully, this did not happen in the middle of the night when people are fast asleep in their beds.

  32. @George, Or in the middle of winter when all have their gas heat turned on.

  33. My first thoughts are condolences to the family whose son died, and all his friends. And then I think of how important it is that skilled technicians are payed well and retained by all utility companies, their knowledge and experience valued and compensated. Without this, a modern society falls into ruin-

  34. Question for National Grid:
    We see gas mains being worked on all over our town. What sorts of qualifications do these substitute workers have?

  35. @TrueLeft. It was not National Grid

  36. @TrueLeft

    Columbia Gas is the gas utility for Lawrence, Andover, North Reading and Methuen MA. Not National Grid. MA has a patchwork.

  37. @TrueLeft
    Of course, Columbia and National Grid are two different utility companies. But when you see something like the Lawrence/Andover/North Andover disaster - almost certainly due to human error - you wonder about National Grid's use of substitute workers during the continuing lockout of their own union workers. And, bear in mind, National Grid gas service covers a much larger area than Columbia does.

  38. It would be very interesting to know what caused this, since explosions of this type are almost unheard-of, to my knowledge. Over-pressurizing the main sounds like the only plausible explanation.

  39. This is a horrific reminder that we all need to have and rehearse home-evacuation plans.

  40. I am sorry for the loss and fear that these people have endured. It is something that they have no control over. I am thankful that my home uses zero fossil fuels, so much safer and better for the environment.

  41. On the south shore of Mass., you routinely smell gas when you walk down the sidewalk or are parking your car in the street. I have called National Grid in the past about the concern and they always say they know about the specific smell I am reporting and that these are "acceptable levels" of gas leaking from the sewer vents. I read this as Big Business calculating an acceptable loss risk potential against skyrocketing profits. Capitalism at its best, eh? What was that dead 18 year-old's life worth, Big Gas? You tell me if the calculated risk paid off in your favor...

  42. @wd - Mothers Out Front Massachusetts is coordinating a grassroots campaign to force National Grid and other gas utilities to fix the gas leaks in our neighborhoods. You are probably already be involved, but for others who are interested, here's the link: https://ma.mothersoutfront.org/working_to_fix_gas_leaks

  43. @wd That's terrible and absolutely unacceptable. Here in Albuquerque, I smelled gas outside my home one day and called the gas company. A technician was at my house within 15 minutes, instructed me to evacuate everyone from the house (we already had done so), then checked it out. He found a leak in the outside valve, which he repaired. Then he verified the pressure, and checked every gas outlet in the house before leaving.

    Here, we have regulations that require the gas company technician to find and repair the cause of the leak. As long as the customer still smells gas, the technician is required to remain and fix it.

  44. @wd, I smell natural gas when I enter through the doors at the local Shaws Market. When I tell the management they say yeah we know yet nothing ever seems to be fixed. I worry because the entrance area is where the many employees take their cigarette breaks.

  45. I am an engineer in this field. I have studied this exact failure mode, to try and prevent this. Older systems do not have pressure regulators on each home, instead the pressure in the entire system and each house is controlled centrally, maintaining a quarter of a pound throughout. A failure at that central station and this is is what happens. I wonder how high the pressure got.

    It is heart wrenching to watch this play out. I grieve for the family of the young man killed, and am grateful the was no further loss of life. My deepest sympathies to those who lost their home, so suddenly.

  46. @John - Thank you for your explanation. Now I understand why a family's home exploded and burned in Lexington, MA in November, 2005, after Keyspan Gas employees mistakenly sent high pressure gas into a neighborhood with older pipes designed to handle only low-pressure gas. (Source - My memory, and Boston Business Journal, Keyspan: Human Error Caused Lexington Explosion, https://www.bizjournals.com/boston/stories/2005/11/07/daily50.html.)

    As you point out, it's urgent that gas companies modernize older systems that have only one pressure-regulating station for entire neighborhoods. Gas was installed in Lawrence going on 150 years ago at the same time as Boston and Lowell, initially to provide lighting (Source: https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2016/08/rx/gas-and-electric-company.... The natural gas infrastructure in these cities is antiquated and fragile. If companies don't install modern pressure regulators for each individual home and building, and replace ancient, corroded and leaking pipes, the Lawrence disaster is just a preview of the gas disasters we will see in New England's historic cities.

    My neighborhood in another Merrimack Valley suburb uses gas for heat and cooking. Thankfully, it's only 46 years old, so the pipes should be okay. But the Lawrence disaster yesterday is a terrible tragedy for the young man who lost his life, and all those who were injured and lost their homes. And it's a warning to the rest of us to demand action.

  47. @John - So should I install a pressure regulator in my home if it doesn't have one?

  48. @John You are perhaps the best person of those who have written here to take a simple question - or two -from me.

    If we are to become fossil-fuel free in the USA then why should we be restoring the natural gas system that was central to this disaster?

    I lived in the USA for a little more than 2/3 of my life so far and during that time never experienced having an electric water heater or an oil furnace that was really satisfactory. During that time I did not know that at least from the 1950s on there was already a fossil-fuel free system far superior to oil or natural gas. The Kellogg Center near New Haven had ground-source geothermal and in 1955 the Times had an article - its first and last - that said that heat pumps would soon sweep over New England. Never happened.

    Then in 1996 we moved to Sweden for good. No natural gas systems here. Every city heated largely by district heating, increasingly using other than fossil fuel to produce he heat. More than 400,000 ground-source geothermal systems. Still too many direct electricity heaters.

    So why keep these New England fossil fuel systems? Isn't it time to quit? Go in to geoexchange.org and I think you can find a job given your background.

    My questioning is serious. I note in my comment that two Vermont cities are about to install district heating. Only in Vermont?

    Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com
    Citizen US SE

  49. I feel so awful the young man who lost his life and for his family & friends. And for everyone who lost their homes, belongings, and pets. (I'm sure *many* pets were killed, although only the single human casualty was reported.) Annie Wilson lost her birds (hopefully they will be rescued by someone), husband's ashes, all her photographs--her entire home. Can you even imagine this happening to you??

    This calamity is absolutely unacceptable. It could theoretically be hackers that caused this, but I can't help suspecting it's garden-variety incompetence at Columbia Gas. And if this is the case, the company needs to have all of its municipal contracts terminated, and those ultimately responsible for the atrocity should be jailed. A message needs to be sent to gas companies that THIS. CAN'T. HAPPEN.

  50. I kind of wonder if someone hacked into the system and increased the pressure. Not unheard of. Ask the Iranians why their nuclear centrifuges spun out of control.

  51. @Ak
    National Grid gas union workers have been locked out of their jobs and replaced with inexperienced unregulated contractors and internal management types who don't know what they're doing.

  52. Maybe the control systems were hacked

  53. I had a gas leak this past spring.A contractor was installing a generator.He turned off the gas inside,then outside.The outside unit,only 8 years old,so corroded gas started leaking.The very brave contractor screamed to me to get out,then he ran down stairs to turn off the electrical panel.3 fire trucks,and 5 gas company trucks arrived within minutes.I never was given an explanation by the gas company,why my outside unit was so corroded,and why are not these routinely checked?As I stood on the edge of my acre with my dogs for 2 hours,I really thought my house was going to blow up.The smell of gas over whelming.We need more regulations,over profits!

  54. Outdoor gas and water valves are made of materials that corrode. Why? Because the lines themselves would cause electrochemical corrosion at the valves if made of different materials. So, even newish iron or steel valves can corrode due to being in a watery hole in the ground, or on an outside wall. Then too, it is ‘well known’ that exercising a seldom-used valve will provoke a leak, so you don’t see routine testing happening inside or out. Also, for ‘safety’ outdoor valves are designed to be operated by specialized wrenches carried only by utility people, like the pentagonal nut on a fire hydrant.
    This episode, however, very likely is extreme negligence involving wrong operation of the gas distribution system, rather than inappropriate residence equipment. The deregulated utilities now are really dependent on legally unrelated contractors, so the responsibility is diffuse. The lawsuits will take decades.

  55. @Nora

    Yours is a frightening story. Your meter was 8-years old. The following is rather topical -

    "Massachusetts law requires gas companies to pull each meter after seven years for refurbishment and to test its soundness and accuracy" Incidentally - I pulled this from a story on the new meter plant owned by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts - the same folks in this story.

  56. @Nora
    This is the sort of thing that only happens when people decide to connect up gas canisters (intended for trailers and camping) without any real knowledge of what they are doing. It is not surprising that the connections are not routinely checked, as supervision costs money and the gas providers are mainly interested in maximising profits...

  57. Typical natural gas distribution systems are designed to prevent this sort of catastrophe. High pressure gas is delivered by a transmission company to the distribution company, is regulated down to a medium pressure and fed through a "belt line", which supplies multiple pressure cutting stations around the area, feeding homes and businesses at pressures of less than 1 psi. It is possible to be feeding homes at a few pounds pressure, with individual regulators, but this appears to be a low pressure(ounces) system, in which there is no safety shutoff provided for individual buildings, other than those of the final pressure regulating stations. These regulating stations are designed to handle over pressure situations, but are often equipped with a manual bypass valve, for use when servicing the regulators. Every system in every town will be different, designed for that particular location. Here is where employee knowledge becomes paramount. It is not enough to know generally how these regulators and over protection systems work, there must be workers who understand each individual distribution system, as well as the many various types of regulators, relief valves, monitor setups, configurations, etc.. I don't know who is the responsible company here, Columbia or National Grid, but I suspect the fact that National Grid has locked out its employees and is filling jobs with management and contractors will be found to have played a large part in this.

  58. @CAL Governor Cuomo exited National Grid from Long Island right after Hurricane Sandy and the three-week power outages. And the new company from New Jersey was much better. For instance did not butcher our trees the same way and kept power in big storms.

  59. @CAL Columbia is the company that was upgrading the systems. In this area National Grid is the electric company. The individual houses and building DID have shut offs. People went around the neighborhoods shutting off the gas to prevent more explosions. The most important thing now is to figure out what happened so it can be prevented in the future.

    One problem in these old neighborhoods is when the shut off is in the basement, rather than outside.

    Our infrastructure is old and has been ignored for decades. And our governor is doing the same now.

  60. It is a mistake to have mentioned National Grid in my previous letter. I have no idea whether they or Columbia supplies the affected communities. The conditions for these tragedies to occur goes back to FERC Order 636 of the early 1990s, which "deregulated","unbundled" gas companies to promote competition. It was at that time that companies began reducing work forces. Regulations in place for annual inspections of pressure reducing and control equipment, while still the law, did not contribute to the bottom line. Continual restructuring by companies to cut costs resulted in managers and employees working in areas and on equipment, with which they may not have been completely familiar. Management theory had shifted from the manager being thoroughly knowledgeable of the mechanical facilities of his area, to managers being able to manage people. Occasional classroom training for those in technical jobs was a poor substitute for on-the-job training with an experienced employee. As I said, it was a mistake to possibly link National Grid to this disaster, but the very fact that they are OK with contractors and managers replacing locked out employees is an indication of the scope of problems in this industry..

  61. While this could well be a case of human error, I think it more likely that this could be attributed to our aging and failing infrastructure, or to equipment that does not have redundancy or fail safe designs. Take the time necessary for a thorough investigation so that these communities have an answer. And use the knowledge to make decisions for making sure other communities are not at risk.

  62. @Daisy But we can appreciate the true priorities of America. The latest, higher priced iPhones introduced while our homes explode and burn .

    Politicians whine that there are things the country can't afford to do and fight to prevent requiring strong regulations on businesses to assure, as much as possible, that Americans can de assured of a safe living environment.

    Sounds crazy, doesn't it, but that's where we are in 2018.

  63. Solar panels would be much less prone to exploding. Just saying. But either way, I hope everyone is alright.

  64. @Jamie Pauline
    Finger wagging is just so helpful at a time like this.

  65. @Jamie Pauline Solar panels? You’d need battery storage the size of a house for cooking and heat.

  66. @Jamie Pauline
    Without a massive battery for storage, solar panels alone aren't going to be enough for heat / hot water / cooking, especially through a winter in MA. If you scroll through the article you'll see panels on one of the leveled houses.

  67. Aging energy infrastructures without necessary upgrades, and/or worse, patchwork replacement of older gas/electric systems with substandard ones that leak, corrode far too quickly needing much more maintenance than homeowners were/are used to.

    Such a shame. We are NOT paying enough professional attention to, and fixing, upgrading and maintaining our so very important power grids and roadways, bridges and buildings.
    We've put this chore of upgrading off, for FAR too long. Instead, we're distracting everyone from doing the heavy work of fixing it with arguing and then creating too much political division- and nothing gets done. Tragic.

  68. @RLC Trump ran on infrastructure but the first thing the GOP did was give huge tax breaks to corporations and billionaires. GOP priorities.

  69. @RLC whenever "public goods", i.e. things like infrastructure come up the projects are referred to as "pork barrel". The real pigs are feeding in DC and
    Wall St.

  70. My sympathies to all who have lost homes and belongings, and especially to the family of the young man who died.

    It's so frightening to think this could happen anywhere to anyone. These private utilities are supposedly "regulated" but these days, that means practically nothing, with our anti-regulatory government in place. Many communities are following suit and removing safeguards in the name of "job creation." Who looks out for the people living in the communities serviced by these companies who put profits over all else? No one does. Who forces private companies to update their systems and install more pressure regulators? No one does. The next calamity like this could be in my neighborhood, or yours.

  71. @Ms. Pea Yes. So well said.

  72. This just sounds like a coverup. A really huge and unlikely “coincidence” that all these “gas leaks” happen around the same time causing multiple explosions and fires. I wonder if something else happened and it is being hidden from the public? If this really happened, someone needs to be held accountable for this. But the utility companies are never held accountable for these things. Just like being responsible for causing many wildfires in California and nobody is held accountable or has to pay for the damage, but many ordinary residents, even when they accidentally cause a fire, are imprisoned and wiped out financially. I doubt if anyone will know what really happened in Massachusetts.

  73. @Dave P.

    You’re right that the whole thing sounds strange at first. But it turns out the gas company in question locked out 1,100 employees and replaced them with contractors in June. The morning of the explosions, the company announced that it was beginning to upgrade lines throughout the region. Since the explosions were focused in neighboring communities, odds are that contractors made disastrous mistakes at some point - mistakes for which the gas company won’t pay.

    As for the fires in CA, the Holy Fire was caused by an arsonist. Same goes for some other recent wildfires.

  74. Apparently gas companies do not learn from past experience. As I read the story I flashed back to 1951 (I was not yet 10)! when an over pressure in a gas line being serviced caused over 20 houses in the Town of Brighton NY to explode. In that event by a miracle the only death was a person who suffered a heart attack while walking down the street. Since that event, every house on that gas system has an over pressure relief valve to prevent that from happening again. In 67 years I guess the news has trickled down to Columbia Gas.

  75. Something is not being said here. Gas lines normally consist of black pipe which lasts many decades and judging by the look of those houses it doesn't appear to be age related. What does the gas company have to say? This appears to be some sort of negligence on the gas utilities part as all gas meters have regulators before the meter, but can be susceptible to damage if the pressure to the house becomes to high. To have this many houses affected in the same time frame is highly unusually and is normally not a result of something that the home owners would have caused.

  76. I will be interested to see just what the cause is here. This is a very dangerous situation that could happen anywhere in America at any time.

  77. @Meg
    This situation can't happen "anywhere in America". It can only happen in communities that have natural gas piped into them, and then, only in houses where natural gas is used for heating or cooking.

  78. @Meg, Absolutely yes. And we will most definitely be seeing more of this happening in the future. Count on it.

  79. A reminder that piping fuel. including natural gas, into your home, carries risks.

    We are dependent on the supplier to ensure that their system is maintained properly.

    How expensive would an over-pressure protection valve be at each point where the piping enters a structure, vented to the outside, with a whistle built in as warning?

    Not very, I'm thinking.

  80. @Eric Lamar, If it costs more than a dollar, they'll never do it. Cuts into their bottom line and for their revenue shareholders cuts.

  81. Thousands of people all just going about their lives and they get an order to evacuate as the neighborhood starts exploding. Where would you even go? How far away would you need to be? This is really difficult to comprehend.

  82. Is it possible that this is a terrorist attack on the infrastructure by computer? Or just obsolete equipment?

  83. @John
    This was obviously a failure of safety equipment. First thing to determine is what caused the over pressurization and then why the safety relief valves that are in the system failed to work. Seems likely that they are not tested or maintained properly.

  84. That's totally bizarre too bad the reporters didn't talk to the natural gas association and give technical and historical perspective for the tens of thousands of readers who also have gas in their homes. I didn't care about the lady with the roast quite as much.

  85. Thank God human loss is minimum. I am sorry for the gentleman, who died while sitting in the car. I can’t imagine in what state his family’s condition is. Hope Federal Government and the Gas Company help those, who lost their homes in addition to their precious belongings in rebuilding their homes. If not Gas Company should be held responsible for the same.

    I hope Gas Authorities will find out the cause of explosion and see that it won’t recur since gas leakage is something that doesn’ give much of a chance for survival and causes countless deaths in no time in addition to damaging properties in large scale.

  86. @Sivaram Thank you for your comment. It is a comfort to know that people all over the world care and are sending good wishes and solace. And the people of India know all too well the calamities that can happen when companies are negligent, maybe particularly around pressurized substances. Thinking of the horrific human devastation caused by (American) Union Carbide’s failures regarding pressurized toxins.... Too many people have forgotten or never learned about that awful event, but some of us read books, and others remember reading and hearing accounts of it as it took place https://www.nytimes.com/1985/01/28/world/the-bhopal-disaster-how-it-happ...

  87. While the "human angle" has some validity, it seems to more often than not distract from important, uncomfortable questions that here, aren't even alluded to. Is this a consequence of cost cutting? Ignorance, or incompetence? Like the water poisoning in Flynt, we need real journalism. If it hadn't been for Rachel Maddow's relentless reporting on that tragedy in Michigan, it probably would have been buried. We need reporting on this disaster, not cheap, tabloid style, "the elderly lady lost her parakeets" anecdotes.

  88. @Gustav Aschenbach
    This situation is still unfolding. In-depth reporting isn't magic, it takes time to investigate and check sources.

  89. On November 9, 2005, a home on Hancock Street in Lexington, Massacahusetts exploded and caught fire. It was later shown that Keyspan employees working in the area had mistakenly sent high-pressure natural gas into a neighborhood with old pipes that were only designed to handle low-pressure gas. In the wake of the explosion, Keyspan trucks were all over Lexington for days as the company inspected lines in other neighborhoods. Lawrence is an old mill city on the Merrimack River in northeast Massachusetts. The American Improved Gas Light Company of Lawrence was incorporated in 1868. We can infer that the system of underground gas pipes that supplies downtown Lawrence is approaching 150 years old (source: https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2016/08/rx/gas-and-electric-company....

    Yesterday's terrible outbreak of over 70 gas explosions and fires and at least one tragic death and scores in injuries in Lawrence and adjacent Andover and North Andover may be just a small a preview of the disasters we will see as the antiquated, fragile natural gas infrastructure in America's historic cities begins to fail on a large scale.

    Mothers Out Front Massachusetts (of which I am not a member) is leading a grassroots movement to force gas companies all over the state to fix the widespread gas leaks. The task is urgent, to protect both public safety and the climate.

    (Source: https://ma.mothersoutfront.org/working_to_fix_gas_leaks)

  90. @Ellie, The town of Lawrence is mostly a low-rent district full of recently landed immigrants. They are not high on the priority list for the utility companies and other services. This would never happen in the more upscale suburbs of Boston.

  91. Wonder what’s the cyber security like for these Gas companies....

  92. @Jay
    I was wondering that too, we know there have been hacking attempts into electrical grids and other infrastructure, if a computer program runs the pressurization of gas pipes it could have vulnerabilities.

  93. @Jay, So true. This crossed my mind immediately when I heard about this disastrous event.

  94. Before everyone assumes it was aging infrastructure, companies cutting corners, bad labour relations, etc., it would be nice to wait to get the investigation and report. What happened and why.

    Regarding aging infrastructure and the constant droning to rip it all out and replace it - count me out. I grew up on a farm not to far from where this disaster happened in a house and barn that were both over 200 years old, and it would be a shame to tear them down because they are old, even though they were in good condition. Like people, there is nothing inherently wrong with aging infrastructure. There are bridges in Europe used everyday that are over 1,000 years old.

    We need to fix and/or replace that infrastructure that is unsafe, immediately, without regarding to preservation including historical. But, IMO, once safety is reached I would love to see a more nuanced approach to infrastructure that would include rehabilitation and renewal, and perhaps even just leaving much of it as it is with minor updating, and not just "replacing our aging infrastructure" as the solution, which seems all the rage right now.

  95. In another post an engineer mentioned the likely cause was over pressurization of the gas mains from the supplier and outdated metering and regulators in the affected homes.

    Had a similar conclusion myself.

    But am left with the thought that an ignition source is required. Can it be that, in this day and age, that pilot lights are still used in gas appliances? If so, they should be banned. Were these homes still outfitted with older appliances using pilot lights? If so, retrofits should be mandated.

  96. @joe

    There are lots of "subtle" ignition sources.

    Many older home heating thermostats have mechanical contacts that can spark. Many low efficiency home heating systems, whether they have pilot lights or not, aren't sealed combustion systems and could easily provide an ignition source. And it's becoming heating season here in New England so the heat may have been operating in these buildings.

    Most electric hot water heaters have an unsealed thermostat that can spark as the contacts open or close and thereby provide an ignition source. Many gas hot water heaters with or without a pilot light have a relatively unsealed burner that can provide an ignition source.

    The compressor motor starting relay in most refrigerators has contacts that spark and that's outside the semi-sealed refrigerator/freezer compartment. The thermostat in many older refrigerators also contains mechanical contacts that can spark although in some cases, they're at least inside the semi-sealed compartment or buried in thermal insulation.

    And all of these things are operating autonomously all day long.

  97. @joe I work for a gas company and this is definitely the result of an overpressure event. You don't need an appliance with an old fashioned pilot light to cause ignition, water heaters with electric starters will obviously generate flames when they start. What's most surprising is the silence from the gas company. They know what happened, and they probably already know why.

  98. @Jonny Boy
    Don't hold your breath. That was the liar-in-chief telling people what they want to hear. The reality is that tax hikes are needed to fix what ails this country - crumbling roads, old water treatment plants/water distribution lines, etc. But the repubs are all about cutting taxes for the wealthy and increasing the defense budget to an absurd $750 billion dollars.

  99. I am struck by how disorganized the emergency response has been to these communities. I listened to the Lawrence MA fire department dispatch feed last evening, and it was clear that the dispatcher was on his own. There was no coordination with the Mass. State Police, also being thinly distributed in trying to close off exits from the highways into the three affected communities. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Authority was silent on Twitter, and as far as I can tell, was not leading the response. Gov. Charlie Baker, a GOP moderate, is a corporate guy through and through. He's had non-definitive, late milquetoast responses. People affected are not being given clear, unambiguous advice regarding where to evacuate, what resources are available, when they can return, how to remain safe in their communities, etc. I hope the NYT will continue to investigate and follow this story.

    The FBI is investigating, Columbia Gas is largely silent, and I have no sense of feeling like this situation is under control.

    Massachusetts public safety was not maintained yesterday, and it still is grossly lacking today.

  100. Really, you are struck at how disorganized the emergency response team was when this random situation struck three communities all at once. That's a pretty callous response given the fact that emergency response is handled generally one situation at a time. I expect the emergency response team was overwhelmed. Give them a break. Where were you in all of this...oh...armchair quarterbacking!

  101. @aek
    You seem to have missed the lengthy briefing and press conference held by all the agencies and departments earlier this morning.

  102. @aek Governor Baker just declared a state of emergency and is calling in Eversource to deal directly with the gas line recovery. Bravo!

    The mayors of the towns, their police and fire departments have all done a tremendous job, and mutual aid has been readily offered and is being used, but the town leadership and first responders haven't been well-served by the mandated coordinating agency. Evacuated people are still not able to find one source for their needs: immediate housing/shelter, safety, etc. while this is still unfolding. Mass EMA is a huge disappointment. I know from personal experience that this isn't the norm. I hope the situation undergoes a full investigation in a timely manner so that a future rolling mass casualty event isn't approached in such a siloed way.

  103. Massachusetts is a state where these poorer towns face crippling costs for salaries and pensions of public workers, leaving not much for anything else (see July Boston Globe articles on Methuen police captain salaries being set at $432,000 per year; average income for the town: $32,000). Police officers in towns like Lawrence, in conjunction with lucrative overtime details, routinely take home northwards of $150,000 annually (which is more than our top judges are paid!).

    We are paying more and more money to public sector workers to do less and less work. Where will it all end? Edward Gibbon felt the major cause of the Roman Empire’s decline and fall was a Praetorian Guard that exacted higher and higher tributes, until the system was bankrupted.

    I’m not a Trumper. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. But abuse is abuse. Our systems are crippled and people in the public sector with no civic-mindedness are lining their pockets at our expense...and risk.

  104. @Paul H S

    Sorry Paul but I'm missing your point. The employees of Columbia Gas and National Grid are not public employees. They work for privately held companies. Public employees are not the cause of this disaster. Public employees are trying to help the victims

  105. @Paul H S

    This is the Republican playbook: blame public worker pay for budget problems, but in reality it's Republican tax cuts that shred cities budgets. Rather it's the private sector corporations that have little civic mindedness. Wake up, you're being played...again!

  106. I lived in Brighton NY for many years and remember that when we first came there we learned that Brighton had experienced a similar set of natural-gas explosions that went down one or more streets, damaging or destroying one house after another.

    I have to admit when I visit Vermont for 3 or 4 weeks every summer, I wonder why people there are still so committed to seeing to it that natural gas pipelines are being laid, often with controversy, so they can heat their homes with natural gas.

    When I moved to Sweden we had district heating (fjärrvärme in Swedish) installed in our home several years after arrival. Now that we have lived with that for many years I wonder why anyone would opt for anything else if they had a choice.

    Hot water comes from one of the world's most advanced solid-waste incinerator system 4 km north of my house. That water enters a small white heat-exchanger box about 80 x 90 cm in size. That water heats all the water that moves through the radiators and also takes care of all the bathroom and kitchen hot water needs for me and my renters above.

    The system is silent, no fumes, no dangers of fire or explosion or asphyxiation.

    I provide all this information because I have just learned at npr.net that two Vermont cities are about to install district heating systems. In my view that shows that once again, Vermont is way ahead of any of the other states I have lived in in the USA.

    Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com
    Citizen US SE

  107. Larry, New York City has operated this way for probably a century. Under those Manhattan streets, along with a great diversity of other things, are steam pipes heating buildings courtesy of the big power plants along the shores. Iceland, of course, has an easily, accessed heat source under ground that also can be distributed. Other obvious geothermal projects in the US have bee limited, for various reasons. Our expansion into diffuse suburbs post WW II is responsible for making district heating, or even gas distribution, impossible, so I now live in a state that runs on oil for the most part. Personally, I use as much hardwood as I can, obviously adding to the effluent of all the oil burners in town.

  108. It also shows that VT communities are capable of learning from other communities several thousand miles and an ocean away. Why didn’t PG&se learn from what a reader described happened in Brighton, NY and why didn’t the utility provider in MA learn from what happened in San Bruno, CA?

  109. @Larry Lundgren
    There's a Burn Plant in Westchester County,( Next the Indian Point Nuclear Plant) and it supplies some energy that goes into the local grid, supposedly, plus steam to a local commercial linen company. However, I have no idea how much it actually produces, in energy -- but it also produces a lot of local pollution.

  110. Is the system controlling pressurization of gas lines subject to hacking? Just wond'ring aloud.

  111. My family has lived in Andover for 28 years in a development of modest homes that were built between 30 and 40 years ago. Within weeks of moving in we experienced a water main break down the street, then another break every four months or so for the past 28 years. We were told the developer installed below grade pipes that "somehow" were approved. We finally had a complete pipe replacement project this summer. The removed pipes were beyond belief in their corrosion. The workers said they'd never seen anything like it.

    A month ago, a major railroad bridge near us that connects near Rte. 93 to Boston and NH was closed on an emergency basis due to concern for complete structural failure. The ensuing traffic buildup on other roads has resulted in greatly increased travel problems.

    We received an emergency reverse 911 call at 5 pm yesterday warning us to turn off our gas and evacuate. We determined that the explosions and fires were several miles away and there was apparently no problem in our area. But we, and our neighbors, turned off our gas connection outside the house. But now we wait until reps can come to our area to turn the gas back on and reset the meters, etc. We were fortunate given the depth of the destruction and injuries, but all of the above examples clearly show our infrastructure is gradually corroding at an alarming rate and we've neglected it for way too long. But the recent tax cut gave billions to millionaires, but none to infrastructure.

  112. @marty, Cost cutting measures such as using less expensive, inferior pipes is par for the course. Saving dimes is more important than safety or lives.

  113. Same thing happened several years ago in suburbs of San Francisco. It’s mind-boggling that communities and states don’t learn from one another’s experiences and plan accordingly.

    It is, or should be, criminally negligent for agencies and companies to ignore the causes of catastrophes elsewhere and fail to use that information to immediately implement protective measures in their own policies, practices, and equipment.

    There’s no need, especially in the age of global information sharing, to keep reinventing the wheel — especially when grave harm and disaster are foreseeable consequences.

  114. Hoping for MA residents that your government doesn’t allow the utility company to pass costs (including penalties) related to this disaster on to utility customers as Pacific Gad and Electric tries to do when their equipment or policies or practices cause massive destruction and death, as happened in San Bruno, CA and last autumn in Napa and Sonoma counties (readers may recall the deadliest wildfires in the wine country)

  115. @Mama, Oh you can be most certain that they will. And any fines or business losses will be made into a tax write-off. Including paying out for any liability for damages and injuries/deaths.

  116. The gas pipes under most of Boston and suburbs go back to 1830. Many are made of wood. Imagine what happens when the highest pressure gas from the Mid-Atlantic get piped up to Boston into wood pipes from 1830s.

  117. @brleed You are thinking water pipes. And I suspect all wood water pipes were replaced. In 1830 these regions were just beginning oi industrialize.

  118. The only positive is that this did not occur during the harsh winter time. These natural gas explosion incidents seem to be occurring more and more regularly through out the nation. When will these utility companies invest a dime into upgrading their infrastructure and services? How many will be terrified to turn on their ovens or even the heat now? This is criminal. I hope MA Attorney General Healey nails them with enormous fines and liability.
    Of course Columbia Gas Co. will find some sort of scapegoat or unknown glitch to blame.
    I am just really, really glad the Pilgrim Nuclear Power plant was not in meltdown mode. Can't imagine what that emergency response would look like.

  119. @Sean: The gas company had just announced it was continuing to upgrades in the area. So, chances are this catastrophe happened because of upgrading. Now what?

  120. This is obviously a democratic plot to make The President look bad. There were no gas explosions in Massachusetts.

  121. @Gort Seriously It is Massachusetts! Trump never ever looked good in Massachusetts. Never. Maybe 35% in 2016. Much of the infrastructure in parts these cities is old. Lawence and Andover were mill cities. The oddity is North Andover which is a newer suburb.

  122. @Gort
    Wonderful comment. I hope readers can recognize satire.

  123. @Gort: Just like Florence doesn’t exist, the satellite photos are fake.

  124. I love the way people think Andover and Lawrence are so different. They aren't and the politicians couldn't care less about either community. I also live in a community of large million dollar homes.

    At least that is what they are worth today. We originally purchased our large property and large home for less than $10,000 back in the 70s when no one wanted to live in the area. The landgrabbers want us out just as much as they want to seize the land in the poorer areas. It is why we get so many offers to buy at prices we never imagined.

    I was told they could build multi dwelling properties of mini apartments or condos on our property and make a huge chunk of money. People are deluding themselves and this explosion should prove the communities are viewed the same. No one is safe when they want your land. We see this as the tragedy it is and the landgrabbers see it as opportunity.
    Watch and see what happens next.

  125. In 2010, California had a severe gas explosion in city of *( San Bruno (near San Francisco) killed 8 people and destroyed 38 homes. Pacific Gas and Electric was found guilty of mis-classifying the safety of their gas pipelines, so that they wouldn't have to do required testing. One of the prosecuting attorneys stated that the PG&E method was "profits over safety." In the end, PG&E was only fined about 3 million dollars. I believe that the rates went up, so PG&E customers ended up footing the bill for the damages. When will this prioritization of corporate profits over people ever end?

  126. And PG&E again was found to be in large part responsible for last year’s Wine Country fires, which adversely impacted the health, welfare, and businesses of people even several counties away,including through smoke inhalation. Schools counties away had to close, anyone whose work is outdoors lost income, and more. The icing on the burnt cake came when PG&E fought to pass its financial liability on to customers and tax payers. Like the tax-payer propping up of ill-run banks (only then to have to pay higher lending rates and get lower interest on savings), PG&E claimed its (near) monopoly on the energy supply was “too big to fail”

  127. @PracticalRealities: When we are willing to fight for it. Until then the rich will survive, all else is up for grabs.

  128. I live in a small apartment building that has no gas service. Heating and cooking are all electric. Until a few years ago, I lived in a house in New Jersey with gas lines that must have been a century old. Like most people, I never gave much thought to the gas system itself, assuming that someone, somewhere, had the responsibility of overseeing it. Now I’m not so sure, and it leaves me wondering what the ordinary homeowner can do to protect themselves.

  129. @Global Charm: If you really want to be safe (except in CA), buy a house way out in a rural area, get all solar, staying off the grid, no gas, no propane, no generator (which needs something to burn if you need it). You don’t want to be near a neighbor who might have gas or electric, or propane. Oh, no land line. You can get electrocuted on one if lightning hits your line. People have been, plus it can start a fire. Cell only works if there is a tower near. No internet or cable. Satellite is iffy, you have to have a cable from your dish(es) to the house. In other words, unplug. Make sure your contractor has everything built to code, including water piping (from your own well, tested regularly). Then remember, nothing is truely 100% safe. CA also has lots of wild fires & earthquakes.

  130. It has been 50 years since I worked in the gas fields of western Kansas but this should have been a preventable accident with simple safety devices - we had them on all of our lines and systems. As a college engineering summer worker it was one of the first things I learn. The rupture disk. They prevent over pressure by "rupture" and venting of the gas. If a pressure regulator fail you still always had a rupture disk to prevent over pressure. Simple and effective.

  131. I live in California, where the threat of disaster looms large in everyone's consciousness. We have a neighborhood disaster cache (a shed with emergency supplies), we practice drills on what to do in the event of an earthquake, how to check for residents, keep lists of who lives in each house and their children, pets, etc. and everyone's phone numbers. As much as we practice for what's to come, we always fear we won't be fully prepared.

    These poor people didn't ever think something like this was possible. Now their lives are forever changed. I'm so sorry they have experienced this. Utilities there must answer for what surely must have been someone's responsibility. Answers first, then liability.

  132. And don’t let the utility (or whoever is to blame) foist the monetary liability onto utility customers or tax payers.

  133. @Jane Tierney I agree. The experience of San Bruno, CA, eight years ago, parallels: 8 dead, 58 injured, criminal convictions at the Federal level, $1.6B judgment levied against PG&E by the CA Public Utilities Commission, ongoing lawsuit by the residents, and ongoing criminal investigation regarding judge-shopping by PG&E with coordinated help from State employees. In our home, we still use natural gas, but we are working to eliminate all use of of natural gas: given the availability of sunlight as a low-cost source of energy, we can afford to do so, but electricity remains 4-5X higher in cost as compared to natural gas (without, of course, weighing the explosion risks). Pray for the victims and first responders, but put pressure on the gas service providers, and on government, elected officials and bureaucrats.

  134. @Jane Tierney: Safety first, then answers, then liability. Which is what the Governor was trying to get through the media’s head last night. At that first press conference the important infor was what’s going on, where are shelters in each community, will there be any more fires or explosions (they had no clue, no one did)? Each Mayor &/or town Manager gave that information. Including evacuation orders. It was going to be a night of checking houses, turning off gas to them (if needed), nudging those in danger to evacuate. In Lawrence (the city) it was easy. As the Mayor kept saying in 2 languages: If you are south of the river, get north of it. For the last part of what was done last night was the hardest. Wait, be ready, if more explosions or fires happen. For there could have been. Now they are working to get people who still have homes back in them. Which mean each one must be checked for gas, which takes 1 policeman, 1 fireman, 1 gas company employee. It’s that last I pity the most. They will be yelled at, bitched at, told it’s all their fault. They are only workers. They do as told. Please be nice to them.

  135. THIS is what corporate irresponsibility looks like. Instead of dedication to service and safety in return for guaranteed profits, public utilities are cutting jobs, losing experienced hands, and focusing on high pay at the top and the interests of shareholders instead of customers.

    For shame.

  136. @Observor: And putting in your new electric, gas, water, instead of repairing those in older neighborhoods. Want to wait for 6-12 months to have those 3 utilities put in your house? Maybe massive raises in how much getting connected to them costs. Single family home, say $50,000 each utility. Would go a long way to hiring a new installer. Or maybe $100,000? Or a percentage of the price of the house, say 25-50%? That way older neighborhoods could get upgraded. Oh, if those single family homes get out of line for upgrades, they should pay extra for it too. Don’tcha Think?

  137. The Governor should have obtained a warrant from a pliant local judge and sent the state troopers to arrest Columbia Gas senior executives on a charge of "endangering public safety" or something along those lines.

    I guarantee that Columbia Gas would be more forthright under those conditions.

  138. @keith d., Too busy doing PR damage control with the ever willing Governor Baker to do some of their dirty work.

  139. It is still unclear whether everyone was supposed to evacuate town, or if we were supposed to leave our homes if our gas was still turned on. Or if we were supposed to leave even if we turned our gas off. This added to the panic and confusion. I just moved in with my bf last week, so I didn’t know anything about how the house worked. This is why we still need home economics. I was a damsel in distress, barefoot and confused in the street. Thankfully a neighbor was able to help me turn off the gas.

    We need to educate our daughters about basic home maintenance and mechanics beyond cooking and cleaning. I felt like a bumbling fool, but I’m grateful for the neighbor.

  140. @Chelsea: What an amazing and thoughtful idea you've expressed here in suggesting that young women be taught about basic home repair/maintenance in school! I was a 30-ish single mother of two daughters living in southern California--as the threat of an earthquake loomed daily, the telephone company cleverly published "Emergency Procedures" pages at the very front of the telephone book & using the diagrams about using a simple wrench to do so, I was able to turn off the natural gas source just outside my back door--fortunately I never had to think fast during a real emergency (I subsequently moved from CA. But I felt more confident because I was prepared--same with changing a flat tire & simple maintenance of my vehicle--a real sense of independence. Brava for your suggestion!

  141. Seem like another case of a company focusing on profits and how to cut costs to boost the CEO's paycheck. Another case of corruption by the 1% to skin the goose that laid eggs, ONCE.

  142. Massachusetts has an aging infrastructure--the problem is worse than you can imagine. Take a look at any one of the interactive maps showing gas leaks in Massachusetts (Google "interactive map gas leaks Massachusetts"). Here find one dedicated to Boston: https://www.edf.org/climate/methanemaps/city-snapshots/boston.

    You can also find maps of "lost leaks"--those that were once in the natural gas companies' databases as needing inspection and repair, but suddenly gone from the record without any fix. MIT did a study on this; find the data here:
    http://lostleaks.csail.mit.edu/.

  143. While Wall Street rakes in billions of profits and Republicans lower taxes on the rich, infrastructure deteriorates. Rich people live in new McMansions while the rest of us make do renovating (or haven't the bucks to renovate). Energy companies resist developing technology to switch away from polluting coal or exploding gas while Trump puts tariffs on solar panels from China (and Republicans refuse to fund solar panel research and production in the U.S.). Why is it so hard to do the right thing in this country? Follow the money.

  144. Methane gas, aren’t we glad it is being deregulated? All of those regulations clearly were pointless. Trump let us know it was being deregulated then suddenly we see a bunch of explosions from natural gas, which is 70-90% methane.
    A person might even think these things were related.

  145. If that’s true, about much of the gas being methane, why isn’t the government (or others) figuring out a way to safely and with minimal environmental impact collect the methane that another article reported is bubbling up in Alaskan lakes?

    The warming of the planet is causing permafrost under the lakes to thaw, releasing volumes of hazardous methane gas into our air. Why collect the methane for use in a way that simultaneously protects the world’s atmosphere from this clear danger? Any takers?

  146. Unconfirmed report from a union source: Columbia had been involved in a union dispute throughout the summer and was using unskilled scab labor to install meters and gas lines. Those may have been installed incorrectly or pressure regulated improperly.

  147. If that’s true I sure hope this wasn’t sabotage. Some unions in Ma are capable.

  148. I didn't read through and see if this has been said, but the caption to the photo is wrong. Lawrence is not a suburb of Boston, it is a city of over 80,000 people, one of the most diverse communities in the Commonwealth. It's got national historic importance - it was the site of the Bread and Roses textile strike. Cities and towns in a small state will be (relatively) close to one another, but they are no less distinct for that!

  149. Not saying this is what happened in this particular case but this is what infrastructure hacking will look like. Let's say we annoy a foreign government by levying tariffs on their exports and they want to retaliate - they can call on their elite hacking team to pull up one of the many infrastructure exploits they've identified and adjust the pressure (or voltage) to cause some havoc.

    If a cyber-war were to ever start, expect to see a lot of things like this. It's not just bank accounts and credit cards; there are a lot of physical things than can be hacked remotely...

  150. Here’s a nasty thought: If this really was, as it appears, very high pressure mistakenly applied to very low pressure gas distribution lines, enough to break through the regulators at those houses, how much more of the system now has cracked pipes under the streets and through front yards, damaged regulators and damaged appliances? In my (industrial) experience, a gas regulator that has been seriously over-pressured is replaced even if it doesn’t leak. Checking, testing and calibration is probably necessary. Looking for leaks is only part of the remediation.

  151. Good thing this didn't happen in the dead of winter. Very sorry for all those people! I'm in CA where the San Bruno explosion happened, and more recently people losing homes in fires, sometimes evacuating with only a few minutes notice.

  152. I had something similar happen in the 70's using propane. I came home from work and my house smelled of gas. The pilot light on my water heater had blown out (from over-pressure) and gas continued to flow through the low pressure shut off, filling the house slowly with gas. I turned off the outside tank, kicked in my basement windows and left the front door open. Later, I disassembled the tank regulator and found it packed with ice crystals (February), the propane gas had entered the house at full tank pressure. In this current incident, there may have been an over-pressure incident that bypassed low pressure shut-offs. Natural gas pipe installations are sometimes tested for leaks using pressurized air. There was a large construction fire when the operator used natural gas instead of air to test for leaks.

  153. @Beaconps - Why use propane when safe non-fossil fuel systems are readily available. When I am in Vermont I am always astonished to see propane tanks all over the place. Heat pump systems are far better and are non-fossil-fuel systems.

    Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com
    Citizen US SE

  154. Sweden burns garbage and plastic bags for its electricity. What about that?

  155. There are huge projects underway right now through NY into the New England area. This is going to strike the fear of god into residents - and hopefully the Gas companies who have been sailing through with FERC ( Federal Energy Regulatory Commission). Because this is a national and regional issue, - and it is, localities have almost no real input into planning and approvals-- there are hearings mandated for new approvals, but they seem pro forma.

    Re: "Columbia Gas" Trans Canada Corporation is the owner, with 57 subsidiaries - which operate under different names in different states, for different purposes, to conform to different regs. and most likely, to maintain liability issues in separate silos.

    I am not against transmission and use of natural gas.

    But the poor people of Lawrence are serving as warning examples that its use is only as safe as the government demands. Infrastructure, the methods of operation, maintenance, location that takes into account local geography ---- how many places are these not done to the best known practices?

    How much liability will Columbia be assessed for the damage and deaths?

    This rift of explosions is eclipsed by the political and natural storms of the moment, but it may become a fiery symbol of how we may be undermining ourselves. Imagine if terrorists did this - no money would be spared to get them. We need to treat our dangerous infrastructure condition with as much seriousness.

  156. @cheryl All my comments and replies are, in a sense, focused on the questions you raise.

    But my comments ask a simpler question that no other reader raises except one in a reply.

    Basic assumption: The USA must end use of fossil fuel to heat space.

    The president opposes such action.

    Yet almost every comment is focused on the question: How can we get this natural gas system up and running more safely as soon as possible?

    I am totally mystified by this. Are these readers all supporters of Donald Trump? By choosing as the only alternative, more use of natural gas they are supporting him completely.

    You too seem to be concerned only that the giant projects under way are done more safely. Thos giant projects mean that any professed commitment to ending US fossil fuel use is meaningless.

    Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com
    Citizen US SE

  157. I have worked for 8 years at the gas company to treat the natural gas for the industrial company. The natural gas is so difficult to control because of the material whose people cannot recognize gas by their eyes. I can easily imagine how the residents feel very scared by this accident. I pray this problem will solve by supporting of the specialist of the gas control and the firefighters.

  158. I just read reader picks all the way down to my brand new (12 noon) comment with 22 recs. Mine is the only way that even raises the question: Why continue with natural gas?

    My blog contains samples of systems used in a country that has no residential natural gas lines, yet is heated very well using the greatest percentage of renewable energy sources in all of Europe (recent European report).

    Why continue with natural gas?

    Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com
    Citizen US SE

  159. Larry, the flippant answer is that Sweden has no natural gas resource at all, and taps a depleting Danish field. So, there is essentially no projected expansion of gas use. Biogas production is small, and has problems. Countries that have energy sources of any kind tend to utilize them. It always bothered me that, in the US and other oil-extracting countries the natural gas was just flared off, rather than captured and used. Even worse with trumps latest deregulation of methane, q.v. Right now I’m working to bring solar PV to our town schools, and even with nominally-free installations, it’s a hard sale, and the new tariffs, the end of tax credits, and utility obstruction indicate that we’re going nowhere for the next few years at least.

  160. @Larry Lundgren

    My guess would be the cost of changing the system. Who will pay? The home owner, who might not be able to afford it? The utility companies, who have to answer to shareholders about profits? The state government? The federal government?

  161. Every person who writes here about fixing the natural gas system, both existing and under development, instead of pointing to replacement with renewable energy is supporting Donald Trump to the fullest.

    Have any of you by chance written comments in the Times finding fault with Donald Trump's commitment to fossil fuels and his breaking away from the Paris agreement?

    If you have and yet write here about fixing the system then your opposition to Trump means nothing.

    The only reason to continue using natural gas in New England is to support the fossil-fuel industry and to declare that Donald Trump is right, we must make the fossil fuel industry and consumption of their products even greater.

    I write these comments today because I simply do not know what to make of what is revealed here, an almost total commitment to fossil fuel.

    Final comment.
    My Gmail address is at the following where you can also see renewable energy systems, rare in New England but not non-existent.
    Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com

  162. This is not a regular occurrence, fortunately, but in any advanced society such as the USA it should never happen at all. Governor Baker should get the experts working on the cause of the explosions (there seem to have been several) immediately, even if public utilities are not state owned.

  163. Could this possibly be the result of infrastructure control hacking?

  164. Puts me in mind of the Aliso Canyon gas blowout 3 years ago here in Porter Ranch, CA. The natural gas storage tanks were old and had not been modernized. We residents were "temporarily relocated" for 6 months. Hope these folks in MA get much quicker response/repairs/clean-up than we did.

  165. Utilities play a dangerous game when they cut corners on making preventative maintenance a priority. Several years ago, our electricity provider was negligent in not making inspections of power lines and trimming trees to prevent power outages and fires. I went before the City Council to alert that body to a recent power line break which caused a fire close to my residence. The City Manager shrugged his shoulders and told me a state agency was responsible for requesting that the power company check for trees that could fall on the power lines. A subsequent meeting with representatives of the power company merely extended the reluctance to work for prevention and basically told the Council "you know where you can go". My case was minor compared with the horrific gas explosions just north and east of where I live on the same Merrimack River. I fully expect this issue will be "tabled" by corporate indifference.

  166. But Republicans at the state and federal level think there are too many regulations....................................

  167. Deepest sympathies to all affected. Can the NYT find out how often the pipeline was checked by a corrosion engineer? Was it in accord with the regulations? Do the regulations need to be changed? Corrosion testing is cheap compared with loss of life and property like this.

  168. By going through the available reports on the subject natural gas explosion by the media and the comments, I could find
    the absence of much needed "Risk Assessment" to the job.
    Prior to embark on the field work for maintenance or renovation of the existing gas lines, site visit(s) by a team of
    Field engineer,HSE (Health,Safety & Environment) personnel and the performers of the job is the essential part of the job execution.
    HAZOP & HAZAN at onsite and briefing the residents about the job to be carried out by explaining the existing lay out of the line,proposed modification, precautions to be followed etc. are the integral part of the job.

    In the field of 'gas,oil& explosives' one could always expect the unexpected'. Always keep the technical personnel and HSE who had rich experience in the field in good humour and give them the task. If one of the suspected reasons for the explosion was 'the over pressurized gas line", my investigative mind asks about the 'absence of awareness on the possible cause for the over-pressure during execution of job". Field assessment to the task & preparatory work is always time consuming but it would save lives and lively hood in the field of 'gas,oil & explosives" especially in the era of 'fast food'.