© 2021 WYPR
Header Background.png
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Columbia Gas To Pay Record Fine For 2018 Massachusetts Gas Explosions


Fires and explosions ripped across three communities north of Boston one afternoon in 2018. Soon, they were traced to the gas lines. And today the utility responsible for those fires pleaded guilty to breaking federal safety regulations. And it has agreed to leave the state, as Craig LeMoult of member station WGBH reports.

CRAIG LEMOULT, BYLINE: That September afternoon, utility crews accidentally overpressurized (ph) natural gas lines. The resulting explosions and fires killed one person in Lawrence, caused three homes to blow up, damaged more than 130 buildings and injured nearly two dozen people. Thousands of people were displaced from their homes for months. In announcing that the responsible utility, Columbia Gas, had pleaded guilty to violating federal safety standards, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said they showed what he called flagrant indifference in the face of extreme risks. As part of the agreement, he said, Columbia Gas's parent company agreed to sell the utility and stop all of its gas pipeline operations in the state.


ANDREW LELLING: Part of what we are doing here is attempting to vindicate the outrage in the city of Lawrence and surrounding towns. We knew that one of the things those communities wanted is for Columbia Gas to simply go away, and so that's why one of the components of this agreement is that that company will now go away.

LEMOULT: Any profits from the sale of the company will go to a federal fund that provides services to victims of federal crimes. Columbia Gas will also pay a $53 million fine, the largest criminal fine ever imposed under the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act. In a statement, a Columbia Gas spokesperson says the company takes full responsibility for the tragedy and that today's resolution with the U.S. attorney's office is an important part of addressing the impact. Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera has been calling for Columbia Gas to be kicked out of his community practically since the disaster happened, but his reaction to the news today was muted.


DAN RIVERA: There's no joy here, you know? This is - we wish it never happened. And so today, I think, what we feel is, you know, that this is just another step into making us a little bit more whole.

LEMOULT: Another step in that direction is a $143 million class action settlement the utility has reached with victims. A federal judge is scheduled to rule tomorrow on the details of that settlement.

For NPR News, I'm Craig LeMoult in Lawrence, Mass. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.