(Adds details on settlement, background on case)
By Nate Raymond
BOSTON, July 2 (Reuters) - NiSource Inc will pay $56 million to resolve a probe into Massachusetts gas explosions in 2018 linked to a utility it owns that killed one person and destroyed multiple buildings, the state’s attorney general said Thursday.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said the settlement with NiSource and its subsidiary Columbia Gas of Massachusetts will provide debt relief to low-income gas customers and pay for clean energy programs.
The settlement resolves Healey’s probe into Columbia for violating consumer protection laws and an investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities into its pipeline safety compliance and response to the explosions.
The Sept. 13, 2018, disaster occurred in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover, three communities northwest of Boston. Columbia was replacing aging cast-iron pipes with plastic lines.
The blasts killed one person, injured 22 others, damaged about 131 homes and commercial buildings and prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents.
“We are pleased to have reached resolution on all pending investigations related to the Merrimack Valley incident,” Dean Lieberman, a spokesman for Merrillville, Indiana-based NiSource, said in a statement.
In March, Columbia pleaded guilty to violating a federal pipeline safety law as part of a plea deal with the U.S. Justice Department in which it agreed to pay $53 million.
That deal, like Thursday’s state accord, also required the company to leave Massachusetts, prompting NiSource to agree to sell Columbia’s assets to Eversource Energy for $1.1 billion.
The asset transfer is expected on Nov. 1, at which time Eversource will be required to implement a safety program and address any remaining remedial actions, Healey’s office said.
NiSource has already spent about $1 billion addressing the explosions, including $143 million to resolve class action claims by businesses and residents. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Tom Hogue and Richard Chang)