There was a packed house at the hearing at Boston City Hall on Tuesday, July 12 in support of an ordinance that would require utility companies to fix natural gas leaks in Boston. From public health and safety to environmental impacts to economic costs, natural gas leaks pose a significant burden to both Boston and the Commonwealth.
With one of the oldest pipeline systems in the country, gas leaks pose both damaging environmental and safety hazards and detrimental economic impact on our local business community. Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) created a map highlighting nearly 25,000 potentially dangerous gas leaks. The aging pipes, made mostly of cast iron or unprotected steel, have a higher tendency to leak harmful methane gas into the atmosphere, creating a significant public safety and health threat.
Unfortunately, when a gas leak remains unrepaired, it doesn’t get any better over time. Some leaks in the state have been left unrepaired for as long as 30 years. A Harvard University study found 2.7 percent of the gas that is brought to the Boston area never reaches its customers. Lost and unaccounted for gas creates a financial burden on the local business community. Using the average commercial natural gas price for 2016, we calculated that the lost gas represents a $105 million fee for gas that never reaches commercial ratepayers. That’s a lot of lost gas that businesses have to pay for.
Utility companies are only required, through state regulations, to repair grade 1 or 2 leaks, or those known to be an immediate public safety hazard. Of the 25,000 leaks that HEET identified in their study, only 2,000 were found to be grade 1 or 2. The remaining grade 3 leaks add up to some serious environmental and economic implications.
The city ordinance would require utility companies to track and schedule repair for natural gas leaks. Utilities would have to complete the repair or elimination of leaks ranked as volume priority gas leaks within 6 months of reporting. As each gas leak is repaired, the next highest volume gas leak would become a volume priority gas leak. The volume ranking would be updated every six months. The goal is to have all gas leaks in the city of Boston eliminated within 6 years of the passage of the ordinance.
At a time when the state legislature is investing in clean energy resources to meet our emissions reduction mandates, we are missing one of the most obvious solutions. We mustn’t forget to repair the infrastructure we already have. Passing this ordinance will set a precedent for other municipalities and the state who are grappling with this issue. Within the next few weeks as the state legislature debates comprehensive energy legislation, the House and the Senate should look to Boston for solutions. It can go a long way towards meeting our energy needs, reducing emissions, and protecting our local economy.