By Mark Kempic
I knew it was an incredibly challenging time for the community when I arrived in Massachusetts last fall to assist with the recovery efforts following September’s gas event in the Merrimack Valley. What immediately struck me the most in the face of tremendous adversity was the graciousness with which those in the Greater Lawrence Area welcomed the Columbia Gas team members and the thousands of subcontractors with whom we partnered into the communities. The resilience these communities have shown in the months since September has been truly inspiring. I continue to be impressed and humbled by the support that has been shown to our teams.
As I take on the role of president of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts this week, I’d first like to reaffirm to our customers in the Greater Lawrence Area that we will continue to support the full restoration of your community and will continue to seek ways in which to partner with you for the long-term. That focus on community partnership is something that will extend beyond the Merrimack Valley and to all the communities we serve across the state. We know that many of our customers lost confidence in us. We will continue to work every day to restore that trust and provide safe and reliable gas service to our customers across Massachusetts.
While we work to rebuild trust, we will also continue to rebuild the infrastructure that serves Massachusetts. Columbia Gas remains committed to rebuilding our statewide infrastructure and operations. Over the last 10 years, we have replaced about 500 miles of pipe across Massachusetts and last fall, in the Greater Lawrence area alone, we completed the installation of 43.5 miles of gas main lines and 5,086 service lines and the requalification of nearly 12.3 miles of main line polyethylene pipe. This work provides state-of-the-art infrastructure and enhanced safety features for the entire system. These safety features include “excess flow valves” at each customer’s home that will automatically shut off the flow of gas if a line break occurs. We have been and will continue to proactively replace aging infrastructure throughout our operating territories in Massachusetts, in addition to installing these state-of-the-art safety features statewide.
Since September 13th, our parent company, NiSource Inc., has reviewed low-pressure systems across its full operating area and is strengthening safety systems to better safeguard against over-pressurization and other incidents, including remote monitoring, implementation of the safety management system, and enhanced damage prevention practices. NiSource has committed to investing an initial estimate of $150 million to install automatic shut-off devices to protect against over-pressurization on its low-pressure systems across its seven-state operating area. This installation work has already begun here in Massachusetts.
Our commitment to supporting our customers goes beyond providing safe and reliable service. As a member of the community for more than 125 years, it is a priority of ours to be a good neighbor.
This is an area where I’m going to pull from my prior experience and bring new programs to Massachusetts that I have seen work in other areas. One of these initiatives will be to put an emphasis on partnerships with local schools, including high schools and middle schools as well as vocational ones. One goal is to teach students about the role of a utility company, how we are promoting energy efficient options within communities, and to encourage young students to look for a career in STEM by introducing them to engineering and information technology. I’m looking forward to bringing these programs to students in the community, beginning in June with our first “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.”
I thank you for the support you have shown the Columbia Gas team. I’m looking forward to strengthening the relationships we already have here in Massachusetts and expanding our network of community and customer partnerships in the months and years to come.
President and Chief Operating Officer
Columbia Gas of Massachusetts ◊