While $56 million settlement proceeds, victims still hurt from Columbia Gas explosions.
The Department of Public Utilities issued an order approving a settlement relating to Columbia Gas’ role in the Merrimack Valley gas explosions, on October 7. The company responsible for the devastation will pay $56 million and will no longer do business in Massachusetts. Columbia Gas will also transfer its assets to Eversource Energy. The money will support the creation of an Energy Relief Fund, which will help low income customers by erasing debt on their gas bills. It will also be contributed towards a Merrimack Valley Renewal Fund, which will “provide clean energy programs and grants for residents, businesses, and municipalities in the Merrimack Valley,” according to a press release from the Department of Public Utilities.
While the settlement may be a step towards accountability for the disaster that occurred in 2018, advocates such as Derek Mitchell, founding executive director of the Lawrence Partnership, have said that this does not fully address the trauma residents and businesses are experiencing. According to an article in the Boston Globe, one person was killed, over two dozen were injured, and over a hundred homes and buildings were damaged. The towns of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover are still recovering from the explosions.
“It’s nearly impossible to put a quantifiable number on the level of impact that was had in these three communities,” said Mitchell. “With the work that we’ve done, very specifically with small businesses, there have been so many second and third layer impacts for businesses that likely never will be compensated. It’s unclear what amount of money would have been enough. Similarly, for residents, the level of hardship and trauma – not to mention the loss of life and injury – I’m not sure those things will be adequately compensated for with some energy upgrades to their houses.”
The accident occurred in September 2018, when excessive pressure in natural gas lines, owned by Columbia Gas, triggered a series of explosions and fires. Some spokespeople, like United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling called the tragedy an issue of negligence, stating that Columbia Gas had acted “with reckless disregard for safety, by cutting corners and relying on lax protocols.” Last year, the Baker-Polito administration and the Northeast Gas Association declared that natural gas companies in Massachusetts must “adopt recommended comprehensive pipeline safety management standards,” according to a press release.
Shira Laucharoen is a reporter based in Boston. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. In the past she has written for Sampan newspaper, The Somerville Times, Scout Magazine, Boston Magazine, and WBUR.