Columbia Gas Sentenced in Connection with September 2018 Gas Explosions
Company to sell its business in Massachusetts and pay $53 million fine, the largest criminal fine ever imposed under the Pipeline Safety Act
Columbia Gas of Massachusetts (CMA) was sentenced today in connection with the gas explosions on Sept. 13, 2018, in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover that killed one individual, injured 22, and damaged homes and businesses.
CMA was ordered by U.S. District Court Chief Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV to pay a criminal fine of $53,030,116, which represents twice the amount of profits that CMA earned between 2015 and 2018 from a pipeline infrastructure program called the Gas System Enhancement Plan.
In addition to a fine, the court also sentenced CMA to a three year period of probation during which CMA’s operations will be subject to a monitor to ensure CMA’s compliance with federal and state safety regulations. The three year period of probation will continue until CMA is sold to a qualified buyer.
In February 2020, the company agreed to plead guilty to violating a minimum safety standard of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act relating to the failure to implement procedures to prevent the over-pressurization of its low-pressure gas distribution system in South Lawrence during a pipe replacement project known as the South Union Project.
The settlement is with CMA; no individuals were charged.
“While I’m happy that the process worked and the citizens of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover got their day in court, I am still dismayed that not one person lost their job or will spend time in jail for the loss of life and property that happened on September 13th 2018,” said Mayor of Lawrence Dan Rivera. “I want to thank, from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of the affected citizens of Lawrence US Attorney Andrew Lelling for prosecuting this matter. Without him, Columbia Gas would still be in existence, selling gas in Massachusetts. I hope that he and other federal leaders can find a way to make that $53M fine help the families in the impacted communities. It is clear, now more than ever, that the people of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover would have more use for this money than the federal government.”
“I’m grateful to the U.S. Attorney’s office and to the court for their work to hold Columbia Gas accountable,” said Congresswoman Lori Trahan. “I will continue working to ensure that the funds from this fine are used to support the first responders, counselors and countless others who continue to provide services to the victims of the explosions. We must also continue our work at the federal level to ensure no community ever goes through a tragic experience like this again. Congress must pass the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act without delay.”
You can view the full report from the U.S. Attorney’s Office here.