High gas pressures in Merrimack Valley area of Massachusetts

On September 13. 2013 the Merrimack towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover experienced very high pressure in the natural gas lines controlled by Columbia Gas. 

Normal maximum gas pressure to your boiler is 14 inches water column. The high gas pressure reached around 12 times this maximum pressure. This high gas pressure can easily destroy your gas fired appliances including your boiler.

In total, emergency personnel tackled between 60 and 80 structure fires and 150 emergency calls within hours, state officials said last week, adding that 8,100 to 8,500 gas meters were connected to the over-pressurized pipes.(1)

Situational History
On September 13, a series of fires broke out and explosions occurred in South Lawrence, Andover and North Andover related to the delivery of natural gas. The fires tragically killed one individual, caused a number of injuries, destroyed homes and led to the evacuation of significant portions of each municipality. A mobile command center was stood up in Lawrence and supported by first responders, utility companies, federal officials and members of state and local government. (2)

On Friday, September 14, Governor Baker declared a state of emergency to facilitate a comprehensive emergency response and recovery effort for the people of Greater Lawrence. The action authorized the Chairman of the Department of Public Utilities to authorize Eversource to take management control over the coordinated effort to safely restore utility services in South Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. Over the course of the weekend, teams accessed the 8,527 meters that were impacted by the gas incident, turned them off, and safely cleared the home for any gas detection. By Sunday, September 16 all impacted homes had been safely cleared of gas, power was restored to nearly all homes in the area, and people were allowed to return home.(2)

On Wednesday, September 26, teams will begin deployment to every impacted residence or business to do a full assessment and determine what appliances need to be replaced or repaired. This assessment will help prepare customers to have gas service restored safely. Residents will receive a communication from Columbia Gas to confirm the assessment so they can plan to be home. It will take several weeks for all assessments to be completed. (3)

As part of planning, the team is in the process of evaluating all 48 miles of pipeline that service approximately 8,600 meters and will prioritize affected systems and address those immediate concerns first.  Preliminary work to restore service for a very limited number of customers is also underway. Customers will be updated as more details become available.  Updates are also available on www.ColumbiaGasMa.com.(3)

On Monday (Sept 17), 60 Columbia Gas and contracted construction teams will begin the massive replacement program in all three communities. The effort will ultimately replace the 48-mile, cast iron and bare steel distribution system with state-of-the-art infrastructure and safety features such as excess flow valves that automatically shut off gas flow if a service line is damaged or broken.(3)

If you have gas-fired appliances and live in the Merrimack towns effected, we recommend you contact your gas supplier to confirm your appliances were exposed to this high pressure. If your heating boiler was exposed to this high gas pressure a competent heating professional should either replace or repair your boiler.  To make a claim, find Status of Restoration area or find a customer resource center click here https://www.columbiagas.com/massachusetts/home  

  1. https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2018/09/18/merrimack-valley-gas-explosions-fires-update
  1. https://www.columbiagasma.com/en/about-us/newsroom/news/2018/09/21/new-recovery-and-gas-line-replacement-efforts-launched-for-the-greater-lawrence-area
  2. https://www.columbiagasma.com/en/about-us/newsroom/news/2018/09/21/new-    recovery-and-gas-line-replacement-efforts-launched-for-the-greater-lawrence-area