With the threat of $1 million fines — per violation — hanging over them, Columbia Gas on Monday announced its plan to check 713 natural gas service lines throughout the Merrimack Valley by Friday as required by the state utility regulator.
On Oct. 1, the Department of Public Utilities ordered the gas company to check gas meters that had been moved from inside homes and businesses to the exterior of buildings.
When that switch was made, the company was supposed to have completed certain steps when abandoning old meters and the old services line that led into local buildings. The DPU ordered 713 lines to be checked by Friday and another 2,200 sites to be examined and stabilized by Nov. 15.
The company has until Friday to check the 713 sites. Most — 417 — are in Lawrence, while there are 176 in Andover and 120 in North Andover. Any of the work not done after that will subject the company to $1 million fines per violation.
According to a statement issued by Columbia Gas this week, “none of the 2,200 abandoned service lines that will be verified are connected to the active gas system. While Columbia Gas is not aware of any immediate safety concerns associated with these service lines, the company will continue to conduct continuous leak surveillance and remediation throughout the area.”
The company went on to say that it expects no problems.
“These verifications, as required by the DPU, will confirm that the work on these abandoned service lines was executed in a manner consistent with federal and state requirements and in compliance with CMA’s procedures and protocols,” the statement said.
The check of nearly 3,000 service lines follows reconstruction of the gas system in the wake of the 2018 gas disaster.
After that crisis, which resulted from over-pressurized gas lines, thousands of gas appliances were damaged and underground pipes throughout the region had to be replaced.
The situation worsened on Sept. 27, when a massive gas leak erupted in South Lawrence, at the intersection of South Broadway and Salem Street. It caused evacuations, business closures and anxiety among the people affected, all of whom had also been traumatized by the 2018 gas disaster.
It was following the Sept. 27 gas leak that the DPU ordered Columbia Gas to inspect another 2,200 service connections for compliance with federal and state guidelines.
Of the 2,200, most of the sites — 1,380 — are in Lawrence, followed by 420 in Andover and 400 in North Andover.
Shortly after that, the DPU ordered Columbia Gas to cease and desist all non-emergency work in the state.
The company said it is doing outreach to homeowners and business owners
“Customers may choose to have the verification conducted inside or outside of their home or business,” said Monday’s statement. “If the inspection finds the abandoned service line was not retired in accordance with Massachusetts requirements, the crew will complete the necessary work.”
Mark Kempic, president and chief operating officer for Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, said in the statement: “We understand that while these verifications are an important part of our ongoing work in the Merrimack Valley, they are also an additional cause of frustration for our customers across this community. Our employees remain deeply committed to restoring and maintaining the trust and confidence of all our customers and we are working as quickly and safely as possible to conduct this work in partnership with the DPU.”
Customers may visit the Customer Care Center at 439 South Union St., Lawrence, or call: 1-866-388-3239 or visit ColumbiaGasMA.com for more information.