BOSTON — The state Senate will hold oversight hearings on the state's natural gas system following the explosions and fires that ripped through the Merrimack Valley two months ago.
The first hearing of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy will be held Dec. 4 at the Statehouse in Boston and will focus on gas pipeline safety statewide.
A second hearing on Dec. 17 will by held in the Merrimack Valley and focus specifically on the gas explosions, according to Senate President Karen Spilka's office. Exact times and locations haven't be finalized.
"As we approach the cold winter months, we need answers to the questions residents are asking, including wanting to understand precisely what happened in the Merrimack Valley; is our current state oversight appropriate; and how workforce issues are impacting the industry, among other things," said Spilka, D-Ashland, in a statement.
“I look forward to the upcoming oversight hearings on the gas industry and the Merrimack Valley,” said state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, a member of the committee. “A reliable gas infrastructure is critical to the safety of all Commonwealth residents and businesses. I hope and anticipate that these hearings will help us gain a better understanding of what happened to cause the tragic events in Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence and how we can ensure that events like these do not happen again.”
The explosions, which officials say was likely caused by over-pressurized gas lines, killed one person, injured dozens of others, damaged or destroyed dozens of homes, and left thousands of residents in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover without natural gas to heat their homes as the winter approaches.
The incident is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Gov. Charlie Baker has hired a consultant to review the state's natural gas infrastructure, much of which is aging and in need of replacement.
Columbia Gas has deployed thousands of workers to replace 45 miles of aging pipeline and gradually restore service. The company says all customers should have gas, including for heat and hot water, by Dec. 16.
Members of the state's congressional delegation, including Sen. Ed Markey, have said they plan to hold a congressional hearing on the gas explosions, but a date hasn't been set.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.