Utility to Pay $53M for Fatal Gas Line Explosion

BOSTON, Feb 26 (Reuters) - A subsidiary of utility operator NiSource Inc has agreed to pay $53 million and plead guilty to breaking federal pipeline safety laws to resolve an investigation into catastrophic gas explosions in three Massachusetts communities in 2018. 

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts will plead guilty to violating the Pipeline Safety Act to resolve a probe into to the disaster, which killed one person, injured at least 21 others and destroyed multiple buildings, federal prosecutors in Boston said on Wednesday.

The blasts in the Lawrence, North Andover and Andover communities northwest of Boston occurred while Columbia Gas was replacing cast-iron pipe with plastic lines and prompted large-scale evacuations of thousands of residents.

The deal is separate from a $143 million settlement the company reached in July to resolve lawsuits brought by residents and businesses affected by the explosions and an $80 million accord it struck with the three communities.

Columbia also last year reached a settlement with the family of a teenager killed during the gas explosions.

Merrillville, Indiana-based NiSource, which serves nearly four million natural gas and electric customers across seven states, said it is "committed to doing what is in the best interests of both the public we serve and our dedicated employees, and we will fulfill the terms of our agreement today consistent with that commitment."

NiSource has also entered into a deferred prosecution agreement in which it agreed to try to sell its Massachusetts business, prosecutors said.

The company has called the explosions tragic and has sought to resolve claims stemming from the disaster.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in September cited "deficiencies in management" in the incident. The board found Columbia Gas of Massachusetts should have first relocated the control lines to the newly installed plastic main line after the existing cast iron main line was replaced.

One condition of the plea agreement is Columbia must implement all of the NTSB's safety recommendations made after the incident.

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