Learning from High School Seniors: A Fresh Look at the Merrimack Valley Gas Tragedy

The Columbia Gas tragedy last fall in the Merrimack Valley has prompted a call by leading political figures in Massachusetts for tougher federal safety standards and penalties for gas utilities. Representatives Lori Trahan and Seth Moulton have argued for heightened scrutiny before Congress; Trahan and Senator Edward Markey have introduced the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act, named for the young man killed in his own driveway when gas explosions toppled the chimney of his home onto his car.

In an unexpected development, the disaster ignited the passion of teenagers who see it as a call to action on urgent issues that transcend pipeline safety. For their graduation project, seniors at Four Rivers Public Charter School in Greenfield produced the documentary, Under Pressure

You must see it.  

Under Pressure captures the shock of the September 13th events in the Merrimack Valley communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. But it goes beyond to show why gas produced by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is dangerous in the short run and costly in the long run.  The Columbia Gas accident leads to an examination of the needless environmental risks and costs associated with fracked gas at a time when climate change impacts are accelerating and intensifying all around us.

I’m not the only one to be impressed by what these students have accomplished in this professional-grade documentary. The Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club has embraced this project and pledged to promote it here in the Commonwealth and beyond.

So, while it is appropriate and important for elected officials to focus on the poor pipeline maintenance record of the gas industry, it is as important to see the next generation perform this act of journalism that forces us to look at the bigger picture. 

I’m confident you’ll be hearing a lot more about Under Pressure and the impressive young filmmakers who created it. But you can already see the finished film on YouTube. It’s well worth your time.  Trust me. 

Best wishes for a clean, healthy and safe environment,