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State Halts Columbia Gas Pipeline Work Amid Concerns

Utility contractors dig up the road above natural gas lines along Dracut Street in Lawrence, Mass., Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 after the explosions in the Merrimack Valley area serviced by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Utility contractors dig up the road above natural gas lines along Dracut Street in Lawrence, Mass., Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 after the explosions in the Merrimack Valley area serviced by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Columbia Gas has been ordered to stop all non-emergency work on gas pipelines following a series of "troubling issues" identified by state regulators, including last week's gas leak in Lawrence that resulted in service shutoffs and forced evacuations.

The Department of Public Utilities ordered Columbia Gas on Thursday to stop all work on its gas distribution systems in all service territories, including Lawrence, Springfield and Brockton, unless explicitly approved by DPU.

The restrictions, according to the letter written by DPU Chairman Matthew Nelson, do not apply to the work the utility is currently doing to rectify problems identified with abandoned service pipes and gate boxes in the Merrimack Valley.

The company must provide each municipality with a daily notice of all planned and approved work until DPU tells them otherwise, according to the directive.

"The Department's concerns are significant," Nelson said.

NiSource CEO Joe Hamrock said it would comply with the order, calling it "the appropriate and responsible course of action."

"We recognize many have lost their sense of security and we take responsibility for that," Hamrock said. "While we have taken significant safety steps over the past year, we fully understand that restoring and maintaining the trust and confidence of all our customers and officials will be a continuing process."

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