WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Our underground gas pipelines are riddled with leaks! Utilities report over 16,000 gas leaks in Massachusetts (and independent researchers’ numbers are typically higher by a factor of 2-3).
Every day, gas leaks out from old, deteriorating pipes under our streets and sidewalks, near our homes and our children’s schools, playgrounds, and libraries. Boston’s pipes are the oldest of any city in the nation except Baltimore. Many are over 100 years old. The average age of a Boston gas leak is 16 years.
The utilities own the system, but they can’t—or won’t—maintain it unless we hold them to it.
WHY DO GAS LEAKS MATTER?
Gas leaks speed up climate change dramatically.
The leaked gas is mostly methane, a potent greenhouse gas that:
- is much more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide -- 86 times more damaging in its first 20 years in the atmosphere;
- contributes roughly 10% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in our state; and
- cancels out the effect of our hard-won efforts to bring down our emissions through efficiency and conservation.
Gas companies love to tell us that gas is “natural and clean.” That’s if you ignore the leaks. When you include them, it’s as bad or worse for global warming than coal.
Gas leaks cause explosions.
Gas leaks have been implicated in explosions across Massachusetts in recent years that have caused extensive damage, injury, and in some cases loss of life – including in Dorchester, Springfield, Winthrop, Gloucester, and Hyde Park.
Gas leaks harm our health.
We breathe in the leaking methane and whatever chemicals are in the gas.
We know that methane is a precursor to ground level ozone, which can trigger asthma attacks and cause or worsen other respiratory illnesses.
Gas leaks cost us money.
Utilities pass along the cost of the leaked gas to us, rolling it into the price we pay every month on our bills.
In the greater Boston area alone, the value of the leaked gas is $90 million every year.
Gas leaks kill our trees.
Methane in the soil takes the place of the oxygen that trees need to live and grow, suffocating them and making them sick.
We need those trees for shade and clean air. We pay to replace them when they die. For more information on gas leaks and trees, see this fact sheet.
Gas leaks in Boston, MA; Nathan Phillips, et al (2013)
EVER WONDER WHAT A LEAK LOOKS LIKE?
Methane is invisible and not always so easy to smell, particularly outdoors as it rapidly disperses into the air. If it were purple or even visible like water, gas companies might be quicker to fix the leaks. Because we can’t easily perceive the gas, we haven’t known till recently that it has been spewing into the atmosphere for years.
One Mothers Out Front group dressed people up in big orange “gas leak” suits to help make the problem of leaking methane more visible. We are working with local art students to devise other ways to make the invisible visible.
Downtown Boston Mothers Out Front leak-tagging
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
AS AN INDIVIDUAL, you can:
- Share this fact sheet with your friends and neighbors!
- Find a map of gas leaks your town or city.
- Comment about gas leaks on social media, using our hashtag #FixBigGasLeaks.
- Call your gas company immediately if you smell a gas leak.
- Sign up for action alerts to show up at an event or call your legislators.
- Join your local Mothers Out Front team in taking action. Past actions have included everything from gas leak-tagging events to educational forums to social media campaigns. Mothers Out Front’s gas leaks campaign is summarized in this case study (pages 9-19).
Jamaica Plain team tabling at Wake up the Earth Fest. Cambridge Team flagging gas leaks!
TOGETHER, we are working for change as part of the Gas Leaks Allies. Mothers Out Front launched this coalition several years ago, and it continues to meet biweekly. In addition to Mothers Out Front, its members currently include: HEET, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Boston Climate Action Network, Conservation Law Foundation, Gas Safety USA, Emerald Necklace Conservancy, Brookline GreenSpace Alliance, Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips, Boston University Dr. Margaret Cherne-Hendrick, Community Labor United, Climate Action Now, Arise Springfield, Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, Consumers for Sensible Energy, Garden Club of the Back Bay, Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (Green Committee), Green Justice Coalition, MA Health Professionals for Clean Energy, Salem Alliance for the Environment, 350MA, Friends of the Public Garden.
We are advocating for change on various fronts:
Fix the biggest leaks first
In 2016, we succeeded in getting a state energy bill passed that requires utilities for the first time to address leaks that have a significant environmental impact (not just ones that have the potential to explode). This new tool has helped us press the utilities to prioritize finding and fixing the biggest leaks.
According to two different studies, approximately 7% of the leaks are gushing 50% of the methane. Through an innovative collaboration with Mothers Out Front and our allies, the state’s three biggest utilities (Eversource, National Grid and Columbia Gas) have agreed to implement new methods of finding and fixing these “super-emitters,” or “large volume leaks,” prioritizing them for repair within two years.
Read more about our groundbreaking work with the utilities: a summary of our October 3, 2017 Gas Leaks Summit: Common Goals, Uncommon Partners, videos from the summit on our ally HEET’s website, and subsequent Boston Globe coverage.
Accurately measuring the leaks
We are putting pressure on the state’s Department of Public Utilities and Department of Environmental Protection to work with scientists on ways to accurately measure how much gas is actually leaking, using methods based on local, real numbers. Current estimates of leaked methane in MA are based only on national studies and the utilities’ internal data, information that is not readily available or verifiable. We are pushing for more accurate measurement and fact-based rules.
Implementing best practices for leak repair at the local level
We are working with local officials in communities across the state to prioritize the leakiest pipes for repair, and that gas leaks repair is carried out expeditiously and safely.
Mothers Out Front and our allies worked with Boston City Councilors and Mayor Walsh to pass a Gas Leaks Ordinance that will speed up leak repair and pipe replacement (click HERE for a summary of the ordinance). We are working with other cities and towns who are interested in adopting similar ordinances.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signing the Boston gas leaks ordinance
Other avenues we are pursuing or researching:
- Passing legislation to prevent the utilities from passing on the cost of leaked gas to consumers;
- Changing the incentive structure that pays the utilities more to build new infrastructure than to repair existing leaks;
- Requiring the utilities to provide compensation for trees killed or damaged by gas leaks;
- Changing the narrative about gas: it is a dirty fossil fuel and we don’t need more of it!
HOW ARE GAS LEAKS CONNECTED TO NEW PIPELINES?
Gas leaks highlight many reasons why we don’t want and don’t need new pipelines:
Gas leaks show that natural gas is not a clean or bridge fuel as utility companies would like us to believe. They cost us money, harm our health, kill trees, and are a major contributor to climate change.
The higher pressure of new pipelines will increase pressure across the system. More pressure means more and bigger leaks.
Gas leaks all the way from where it is fracked from the ground to our homes. More pipelines mean more methane in our air and soil.
The money we would pay for new pipelines and the money now spent on leaked gas could—and should—be invested in clean, renewable energy.
The amount of gas in the new pipelines is much more than we need. Most of it is in fact slated for export, so we would pay for new pipelines and suffer the consequences of leaking methane while the utilities make a profit.
We can manage without more gas. The pipelines are being built to cover peak demand times of only hours every year. The Attorney General’s report shows we can reduce and manage demand with conservation and efficiency. We don’t need new pipelines!
Time to turn page on natural gas: Debunking the Access Northeast letter to policymakers, By Eugenia Gibbons
Many of Boston’s leaks are bigger and more dangerous than the utilities are telling us: http://insideclimatenews.org/news/30032016/boston-natural-gas-pipelines-leaking-methane-climate-change-explosion
The problem with natural gas in Massachusetts:
What’s wrong with methane?
Massachusetts Gas Leaks: Not a Pipe's Dream
Spiking Methane Emissions Tied to Oil and Gas Industry
To find out more about our overall Massachusetts Campaign, click here!