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Massachusetts Utility Hit with $50 Million Suit After Gas Explosions

 

One of the many resident’s affected by the deadly gas explosions that damaged dozens of homes is suing the utility operator, NiSource Inc., accusing the company of inadequately maintaining its distribution system.

The blast killed one person and injured at least 25 others. Further, approximately 8,000 people were displaced amid the evacuations as firefighters raced between numerous fires and utility crews rushed to shut off gas and electricity.  It is the largest natural gas pipeline accident in the United States since 2010.

This proposed class action lawsuit targets NiSource, as well as its subsidiary Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, which services three of the communities northwest of Boston that staged major evacuations following the explosions. This lawsuit is the first to be filed after the deadly blasts. The complaint accuses NiSource of negligence and creating a public nuisance by failing to maintain gas pressure in its “antiquated” system. It further claims that the gas pipeline system used by Columbia Gas to service the effected neighborhoods was “poorly maintained, antiquated, obsolete, and highly dangerous.”

The lawsuit also states that the company failed to implement reasonable safety and leak prevention practices and failed to replace obsolete high-risk materials in the system, which used pipelines constructed of cast and wrought iron rather than plastic. Due to such, the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages on behalf of residents affected by the incident and an order required NiSource to stop operating its system in an unsafe manner.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident. A spokesman for the Board claimed that over-pressurization of the gas distribution system was to blame and that the agency was looking at pressure sensors attached to a line that was taken out of service before the explosions.

NiSource, an Indiana-based company, has failed to respond to a request for comment by numerous sources. It has, though, set up a phone center and an office to accept residents’ claims for property damage and costs related to the fires and evacuations. Columbia Gas President announced that the utility is donating $10 million to an emergency relief fund for the people affected by the emergency.

A letter sent by Massachusetts’ U.S. senators to executives of NiSource and Columbia Gas said that the pressure in the natural gas pipelines was 12 times higher than it should have been. Specifically, as reported by ABC News, the letter states: “The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has reported that the pressure in the Columbia Gas system should have been around 0.5 pounds per square inch (PSI), but the readings in the area reached at least 6 PSI- twelve times higher than the system was intended to hold.” The letter requests a reply from the executives.

In 2017, an estimated 650 pipeline incidents caused 20 fatalities and 35 injuries, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. So far in 2018, pipeline incidents have caused at least 3 deaths and 33 injuries.

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