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    What Just Happened in Northeast Massachusetts [UPDATED]

    Dozens of fires and explosions broke out in three small Massachusetts cities tonight. Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover have been evacuated, and power has been cut off to prevent more houses from blowing up. People are injured. Many have lost their homes. And at least one man is dead, because his chimney fell onto his car.

    The news isn't talking about causes except to say it was an overpressurized gas line. How did the gas line get overpressurized? How did it get so overpressurized that dozens of separate buildings, across three separate municipalities, actually exploded? No one is willing to say yet, because the obvious culprit is an energy company and speaking too soon might get a paper or TV station sued. The Governor of Massachusetts has gone on TV to say that we can talk about causes after people are back in their homes, which is fair enough as far as it goes. But there's still no timeline for getting people back in their homes.

    But it's hard to see a whole lot of other explanations here. Columbia Gas of Massachusetts was planning to do some upgrades in the area today, and now all three cities are a disaster area. And the company's enjoying a whole lot of public deference, considering those facts.

    I still have friends in that area, because I went to high school in Lawrence. I was actually planning a visit for next week.

    For those of you who aren't from the area, Lawrence is one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts, with a heavy minority and immigrant population. It's squeezed right up against the very affluent Andover and the more economically mixed North Andover. Lawrence has three times the population of the other two cities, squeezed into a smaller area. It was basically carved out as a separate city for factory workers back when the Merrimack River was a booming industrial belt. The point was that those workers would not share a town with their more affluent neighbors.

    Lawrence is more than three-quarters Latinx. it has the lowest per-capita income in Massachusetts. Andover is more than ninety percent white, with a median household income over a hundred and ten thousand a year. And it's the home to an extremely wealthy prep school, Phillips Andover Academy. Phillips Andover is the boarding school where the Bushes went. So somehow this disaster managed to set both a poor city and a rich one on fire.

    I'm not going to exaggerate Lawrence's poverty. It's not some fearmongering cable-news fantasy of The Ghetto. It has some perfectly nice middle-class neighborhoods. The school I went to, a regional Catholic school, has a good share of affluent students. But Lawrence definitely did not need this, and it won't be easy for a lot of the people affected to recover. This is a major disaster, and Columbia Gas needs to explain.

    [UPDATE: Columbia Gas of Massachusetts is now officially the villain here, just because their disaster response has been so un-responsive. The Governor, Republican Charlie Baker, has declared the region a disaster area so he can take cleanup away from Columbia Gas and hand it over to another, more functional, gas company. This happened after Baker and Elizabeth Warren got a tour of Lawrence 1. filled with catastrophic damage and 2. empty of Columbia Gas repair crews. The Mayor of Lawrence denounced Columbia at length, in damning detail, on live TV. So the most likely suspects behind the disaster have been conspicuously unhelpful in fixing their damned mess.]



    Shocking, never heard of anything like this.

    Everyone with gas should know how to turn it off outside by the meter.

    A 12 inch or similar size adjustable 'crescent' wrench is needed.

    When the valve is vertical 'I' it is on or open, when horizontal '--' it is off. Cut off valve is on or open here:

    See this page for how to cut off your gas in an emergency.

    That’s a good tip, NCD. Thanks.


    A Gas Company Is Being Slammed Over It's Response To A Deadly Series Of Explosions In Massachusetts

    Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera slammed Columbia Gas, the area’s utility company, as “the least informed and the last to act.” He also said that after telling officials to evacuate the area and turn off the electricity, Columbia Gas has only offered “obfuscation.”

    “We have tried to no avail to give Columbia Gas the space and traction, the time to effect a coherent plan,” Rivera said at a Friday afternoon news conference. He added that as fires raged Thursday, “they wasted last night” because “they did not want to foot the bill for them to be here.”

    Officials have said the explosions were related to a pressure problem, but Rivera said Columbia Gas had yet to answer questions about exactly what went wrong, saying, “there’s no 100% knowledge of what the total pressure was that was on those lines.”

    “They are hiding from the problem,” Rivera added.

    Officials have said the explosions were related to a pressure problem, but Rivera said Columbia Gas had yet to answer questions about exactly what went wrong, saying, “there’s no 100% knowledge of what the total pressure was that was on those lines.”

    “They are hiding from the problem,” Rivera added.


    Comment at NYT  from a person who appeared to be familiar with Boston gas distribution infrastructure, said the disaster area customers did not have individual pressure regulators for their gas service.

    Gas pressure was "reduced from the high pressure of regional distribution networks on a neighborhood basis", one regulator for many, many homes, apartments and businesses.

    A home/business individual pressure regulator is on an L shaped shunt off the incoming line before the gas meter. It looks like two pie pans screwed together. I suppose if the pressure spikes dangerously, the pressure regulator kicks open, and blows off the high pressure gas outside the house. The risk moves to outside the house, where the gas will have better chances of dilution, not in the house where it can build up and explode when an electric switch spark can set it off.

    Individual pressure regulators for all customers has the advantage that if incoming line pressure spikes dangerously in a neighborhood of say 1000 customers, even if 10% of the pressure regulators don't work, 900 will, and the line pressure cannot rise above the preset safety level for anyone on the line, a 'failsafe" measure.

    Yeah. What I understand is that there should always be two regulators between the main line (which moves gas at a much higher pressure than would be safe for any home) and the customer. Why there weren't, or why the backup regulators failed, is one of the questions.

    But the leaks aren't just in houses. The pipes that run along streets have ruptured. More and more leaks are being discovered.

    The gas infrastucture is very old in this area. Like, in some places a century old. We're talking about untreated iron pipes that were put in the ground before World War II. Columbia Gas was working on upgrading parts of the network when the disaster started.

    But when they put that amount of high-pressure gas through that creaky old system, they almost certainly wrecked the whole network. You have to assume every pipe and every joint has been compromised. Every single foot of that network is going to have to be replaced.

    Yeah, I watched that video clip. Rivera has serious points to make.

    You'll also notice that *all* the local and state politicians are upset with Columbia Gas. Rivera, Baker, and Warren are three very different politicians and they are all clearly unhappy. So is the mayor of Boston, who isn't much like any of the other three.

    Columbia Gas just keeps screwing up.

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