LACONIA — The string of gas explosions and fires that erupted in the Merrimack Valley area of Massachusetts – which one official described as looking “like Armageddon,” – is causing some members of the public away from the disaster area to wonder about the state of the natural gas systems in the Granite State.
One person was killed and least 25 others were injured Thursday after gas line explosions rocked Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, causing 60 to 80 structures to burst into flames. (See related story, Page 36)
Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate.
As gas technicians firefighters worked frantically on the scene Friday, New Hampshire utility officials and regulators were saying there are ample safety systems in place designed to prevent a similar catastrophe.
“We are very confident our system is safe,” said John Shore, senior manager of communication and marketing for the Eastern Region of Liberty Utilities which provides natural gas service to 90,000 New Hampshire customers, including users in Greater Laconia.
He explained that Liberty’s gas network is constantly monitored at the utility’s control center in Londonderry. In addition, he said, there are gas crews on call 24/7 to deal with any problems.
“There are extensive procedures and regulations that we have to follow,” Shore said.
New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission spokesman Amanda Noonan said the agency would be thoroughly looking at all reports dealing with disaster to determine whether the current regulations for gas utilities need to be beefed up.
“Our Gas Safety Division has been reviewing incidents like this since 2008,” Noonan said. “I assume that they have already starting started looking at what happened in Massachusetts.” But she noted that it will be a while before the PUC will know if any regulatory changes will be necessary. She pointed out that some of the state’s current regulations for natural gas systems are more strict than federal regulations.
Noonan said that Columbia Gas, the utility that serves the three affected Massachusetts communities, does not do business in the Granite State. She said natural gas customers in New Hampshire are served by either Liberty and Unitil. There are about 106,000 natural gas customers in the state all told, she said.
Shore said Liberty has sent 25 of its workers, along with equipment, to assist in the repair and restoration efforts in Massachusetts. He said there was no way of knowing how long they would be on the scene.
The natural gas that serves the Laconia area reaches the region through an underground pipeline that runs from Concord along Route 106.