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Columbia Gas Under Criminal Investigation Over Gas Explosions

A house is destroyed in Lawrence on Sept. 13, 2018. (Mary Schwalm/AP)
A house is destroyed in Lawrence on Sept. 13, 2018. (Mary Schwalm/AP)
This article is more than 1 year old.

The parent company of Columbia Gas says it's under federal criminal investigation over the gas explosions and fires that rocked three communities in the Merrimack Valley in mid-September.

In a federal filing Thursday, parent company NiSource disclosed that the U.S. attorney's office in Massachusetts served grand jury subpoenas on the company on Sept. 24, 11 days after the explosions and fires that destroyed homes in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover; killed one person; and left thousands of customers in the area without gas service.

NiSource says the company is cooperating with the investigation, which was first reported by Reuters.

Calls to Columbia Gas and NiSource by WBUR were not immediately returned.

Columbia Gas had initially said it planned to restore gas service to all affected customers by Nov. 19, but last week pushed the deadline back to Dec. 16.

The utility has completed replacing 45 miles of main pipeline, and as of Thursday morning, about 20 percent of affected customers had their service restored.

Columbia Gas has offered alternative housing to people affected by the service disruptions.

NiSource says it's lost about $460 million in connection with the explosions, and expects to lose at least another $180 million in other "incident-related costs" by the end of the year.

But the company says it's anticipating more losses in the form of fines, penalties and lawsuits.

"We also expect to incur expenses for which we cannot estimate the amounts of or the timing at this time, including expenses associated with business interruption claims and fines, penalties or settlements with governmental authorities in connection with the Greater Lawrence Incident," the filing says. "We expect these expenses and other expenses related to various lawsuits, including class action suits, to extend beyond 2018."

With reporting by WBUR's Benjamin Swasey

Ally Jarmanning Twitter Digital Producer
Ally is a reporter who champions data and public records in the WBUR newsroom.

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