BOSTON (AP) - A
utility company will pay the largest criminal fine ever imposed for breaking
a federal pipeline safety law - $53 million - and plead guilty to causing a
series of natural gas explosions in Massachusetts that killed one person and
damaged dozens of homes, federal officials said Wednesday.
Columbia Gas of
Massachusetts has agreed to plead guilty to violating the Pipeline Safety
Act and pay the fine to resolve a federal investigation into the explosions
that rocked three communities in the Merrimack Valley, north of Boston, in
is a sobering reminder that if you decide to put profits before public
safety, you will pay the consequences,” FBI Agent Joseph Bonavolonta said.
The company said in
an emailed statement that it takes full responsibility for the disaster.
with the U.S. Attorney’s Office is an important part of addressing the
impact,” the company wrote. “Our focus remains on enhancing safety,
regaining the trust of our customers and ensuring that quality service is
parent, Merrillville, Indiana-based NiSource Inc., has also agreed to try to
sell the company and cease any gas pipeline and distribution activities in
Massachusetts, according to court documents. Any profit from the sale of
Columbia Gas of Massachusetts will be handed over to the federal government.
Andrew Lelling said his office’s investigation found that Columbia Gas
violated minimum safety standards for starting up and shutting down gas
lines through a “pattern of flagrant indifference.”
“This disaster was
caused by a whole management failure at Columbia Gas,” Lelling said.
investigators blamed the explosions on overpressurized gas lines, saying the
company failed to account for critical pressure sensors as workers replaced
century-old cast-iron pipes in Lawrence. That omission caused high-pressure
gas to flood the neighborhood’s distribution system at excessive levels.
The explosions and
fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover injured about 25 people and
damaged or destroyed dozens of buildings. Many people were forced into
temporary shelter, and thousands of homes and businesses went without
natural gas service for weeks and even months during the winter.
Leonel Rondon, 18,
died when a chimney collapsed on his vehicle in the driveway of a friend’s
home. He had gotten his driver’s license just hours earlier.