Senators Markey and Warren, and Rep. Trahan introduced safety legislation in wake of natural gas pipeline explosions and fires that killed 19-year old Leonel Rondon


Washington (February 26, 2020) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) released the following statement today after Columbia Gas of Massachusetts pleaded guilty to violating theNatural Gas Pipeline Safety Act and agreed to cease operations in Massachusetts. NiSource, the owner of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, also has agreed to pay a $53 million fine. NiSource is valued at $10 billion.


“Columbia Gas of Massachusetts cut corners on safety in order to cut down on costs, and Leonel Rondon paid the highest price for that criminal malfeasance,” said Senator Markey. “It is a small justice for the Rondon family and all of Lawrence, North Andover, and Andover that Columbia Gas will no longer operate in Massachusetts and NiSource will pay millions for their role in this preventable disaster. 


“But this fine is a mere slap on the wrist, and will not do nearly enough to dissuade other massive billion-dollar energy companies from future negligence or from exploiting the same regulatory loopholes. Our natural gas pipeline infrastructure is a ticking time bomb unless we pass my Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act and close the regulatory safety loopholes that Senator Warren and I uncovered in our investigation.


“Merrimack Valley deserves justice, but we also deserve to have laws on the books that would prevent this sort of injustice from ever occurring. I will keep fighting in the Senate to ensure that we take the lessons of this tragedy and turn them into the law of our land so that a disaster like this never happens again.”


In April 2019, Senators Markey and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Rep. Lori Trahan (MA-03) introduced the “Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act” to respond to the Merrimack Valley natural gas disaster that killed Leonel Rondon, injured more than two dozen, and damaged more than 100 structures. The bulk of their legislation, which responds to gaps uncovered during Senator Markey’s investigation with Senator Warren into the deadly disaster, were passed out of the Senator Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee inJuly 2019 and the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee in November 2019


Senator Markey’s investigation with Senator Warren’s office found that: one, Columbia Gas and NiSource allowed an unqualified engineer to approve the pipeline construction work plan that led to this disaster. Two, Columbia Gas officials who had an understanding of the full pipeline system never saw or signed off on the pipeline construction work plan that led to this disaster. Three, Columbia Gas had not adopted best practices for safety three years after its own industry made these recommendations. And four, the woefully insufficient safety, operations and response plans that Columbia Gas did institute never adequately contemplated a disaster of the magnitude Merrimack Valley suffered, and thus the company was not prepared to stop it or respond to it.


On November 26, 2018, Senator Markey hosted a Senate Commerce Committee field hearing in Lawrence with Senator Warren, Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), then-Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (MA-03), Congressman Seth Moulton (MA-06), and Congresswoman Trahan.