Utility company fined $ 53 million for explosions that killed 1

BOSTON (AP) – A utility company was fined $ 53 million on Tuesday for causing a series of natural gas blasts in Massachusetts that killed one person and damaged dozens of homes.

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts was convicted more than three months after the company pleaded guilty in federal court to the explosions that rocked three communities north of Boston in September 2018.

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts will pay a $ 53 million fine for violating the Pipeline Safety Act as part of the plea agreement. It is the largest criminal fine ever imposed under the Pipeline Safety Act.

The judge also sentenced the company to a three-year probationary period during which its operations will be monitored to ensure its compliance with safety regulations, authorities said.

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts said it assumed full responsibility for the disaster.

After the plea agreement was announced in February, Eversource said it had agreed to buy the natural gas assets of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts for $ 1.1 billion. Federal officials have said the three-year probationary period would last until the sale of Columbia Gas.

Authorities blamed the explosions on the pressurized gas lines, saying the company ignored critical pressure sensors as workers replaced century-old cast iron pipes in Lawrence. This omission caused the high pressure gas to flood the district’s distribution system to excessive levels.

“We expect utility companies operating in our communities to do so safely and responsibly,” said US Attorney Andrew Lelling in an emailed statement. “Instead, Columbia Gas acted with a carefree disregard for safety by cutting corners and relying on lax protocols.”

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Leonel Rondon, 18, died when a chimney collapsed on his vehicle in the driveway of a friend’s home – a few hours after obtaining his driver’s license. About two dozen others were injured and dozens of buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Source: AP News

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