Massachusetts lawmakers want utilities in the state to replace obsolete underground natural gas pipes that are riddled with leaks that increase the risk of fire and explosion and aggravate global climate change, according to an article in the Marblehead Reporter.
“Our natural gas infrastructure is the second oldest in the country and has the highest per capita amount of corroded cast iron,” Massachusetts state Rep. Lori Ehrlich told the state Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “There are over 20,000 known leaks of flammable natural gas in the infrastructure throughout the state.”
She has introduced a bill that would require even the most minor leaks to be repaired if the street above the pipe is dug up, if it is in a school zone, or if the leaking methane is killing trees, the article states. The bill would also set into law a grading system for the severity of leaks, which companies currently set on their own.
“The Bay State’s system of 21,000 miles of pipe delivering natural gas throughout the state includes stretches of old, leaky, cast iron pipes, responsible for some of the 20,000 documented gas leaks, according to the Conservation Law Foundation,” the article states.
The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy also heard from Gloucester, Mass., resident Wayne Sargent, whose house was destroyed by a natural gas explosion. “[Natural gas] was leaking from a pipe in front of my house on that day,” he said. “It found its way into my home, and that’s the result.” He then showed a photo of his ruined house.
New England Gas Workers Association President Mark McDonald said he suspects the gas leaks are a main culprit when manholes explode. “There’s gas in manholes all over the city. All over the state,” he said.
Gas leaks in Massachusetts have drawn considerable attention in recent years. Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips conducted a survey in the fall of 2011 and detected 3,356 leaks within Boston city limits by driving around the city in a vehicle equipped with a methane sniffer.
In related news, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is conducting research to determine how much natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere during production, transmission and distribution. “Natural gas is comprised primarily of methane, and unburned methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas – 72 times more powerful than CO2 over the first two decades it is released,” EDF wrote in its blog.
Policy makers need to understand the extent of natural gas leakage in order to evaluate the environmental impact of natural gas accurately. If there is too much leakage, natural gas loses any environmental advantage it may have and causes more environmental harm than burning coal.
The natural gas industry “is one of the largest domestic sources of methane, and while new gas reserves are being drilled every day, too little is known about how much and from where methane is leaking out from across the natural gas system,” EDF stated in its blog post.
“It is yet to be determined whether the switch from coal and oil to natural gas will be a net benefit in the context of climate, as estimates of total methane leakage vary widely,” EDF reports. “Direct measurements at the source of methane emissions across natural gas operations are essential to help answer these questions.”