As the restoration process continues there is no doubt that the safety of impacted North Andover residents is my first priority. As we planned for the restoration process several weeks ago I was the first among all of the stakeholders to state that Feeney Brothers, the Columbia Gas contractor “in the hole” at the time of the over pressurization, should not work on the replacement of gas mains until such time that the NTSB determined who was responsible. My decision was not based on the “optics” of them doing the work, but instead because it was the safe thing to do. As you know the NTSB issued its preliminary report on October 11, 2018. In that report they were clear about the cause of this disaster “Columbia Gas developed and approved the work package executed on the day of the accident. The work package did not account for the location of the sensing lines or require their relocation to ensure the regulators were sensing actual system pressure. The work was performed in accordance with steps laid out in the work package. In light of this accident, Columbia Gas implemented a safety stand-down for all employees who perform work related to low-pressure natural gas systems for NiSource subsidiaries.” (emphasis added)
In a conversation I had with one of the lead NTSB investigators around the time the report was issued it was confirmed to me that Columbia Gas was responsible and the fact that the report was “Preliminary” would not change that but instead allow them to to provide more details about what took place before and after the incident. This is supported by the last sentence in the report, ” The NTSB’s investigation into this accident is ongoing. Future investigative issues include the coordination between the emergency responders and Columbia Gas; an analysis of the engineering work package preparation and execution, including the design documentation; and a review of construction packages for constructability and safety.” There is no mention of the contractor. In addition, after the NTSB report was issued the State DPU issued a moratorium to Columbia Gas for all non-emergency gas work, but did not do the same for the contractor working on the day of the over pressurization.
As I said at the outset, safety of the impacted residents is my first priority. So when a labor leader contacted me and indicated that if I did not remove Feeney Brothers (a non-union contractor) from gas main replacement work in North Andover he would tell the residents of North Andover I was risking their safety, I went beyond what was determined by the NTSB and DPU and decided to analyze the safety records of all of the contractors that have provided the 200+ crews doing the gas main replacement work in all three communities. What I learned was that Feeney Brothers, the contractor on the job during the gas over pressurization, sits in the middle of the pack regarding safety with contractors having less safe records, some having similar records, and others superior records. The reason I remain comfortable with the safety of the gas main replacement work is that the DPU has more inspectors’ onsite ensuring the safety of these projects than we have ever or will ever see on similar work in North Andover. If I did work in a world where the “optics” was my motivating factor, I would instruct Columbia to make sure that the contractors with the poorest safety records not work in North Andover (and that would not be Feeney). However, I am confident that the DPU is ensuring that the work being done in North Andover is safe; therefore I must focus on protecting your interests by getting the work done in a timely basis so that the impacted residents can be warm in their homes. Removing Feeney would not make the work any safer, but it may extend the time it takes to complete the work and I don't think that would be right thing to do for our residents.
Andrew W. Maylor