Coalition Calls for Triage and Transition Strategy
Recommends repairing leaks, moving off natural gas
BOSTON, MA—Gas Leaks Allies, a coalition of more than 25 organizations and researchers focused on reducing methane emissions, today released Rolling the Dice: Assessment of Gas System Safety in Massachusetts. The 68-page report identifies fundamental flaws in the gas distribution system that lead directly to unsafe situations and recommends feasible, cost-effective, short-term actions to improve public safety while transitioning to a renewable thermal energy system.
The report proposes, with over 50 actionable recommendations, a strategy to triage the gas distribution system and transition to a new way to heat our homes and businesses. Instead of replacing pipes at over $1 million dollars per mile, the report urges repair of the worst leaks as well as improvements to gas company operations, information sharing, and oversight. With the money saved, Massachusetts can invest now in an equitable transition to safer, renewable energy.
This important report provides an independent, comprehensive analysis of the current state of the gas distribution system in Massachusetts, written in response to the Merrimack Valley gas disaster and Governor Charlie Baker’s call for an independent safety assessment. The concrete actions it recommends enhance gas safety and can be adopted by the state, by gas utilities, and by municipalities. “Together, citizens, utilities, unions, and government can address the worst situations and, at the same time, invest ratepayer funds in a safe, just energy future,” said Dr. Nathan Phillips, one of four authors of the report.
“The explosions in the Merrimack Valley last fall placed new urgency on our work,” Phillips said. “There have been three to four gas-related explosions every year that cause fatalities, hospitalizations, or property damage, but Merrimack Valley was an order of magnitude more severe. The death, injuries, and displacement of tens of thousands of people for months, not to mention over a billion dollars in costs involved, means we need to share our data and analysis of gas safety issues with the public as quickly as possible.”
A summary of the major findings and recommendations of the report follows below.
The report identifies the following weaknesses in the engineering of the gas distribution system:
- Centralized distribution ensures single-point failures affect customers downstream and reduces reliability
- Containing a gas underground for decades with cost-effective materials is very difficult
- Gas is flammable and combusts dangerously on a regular basis
Analysis of leak incident data supports these assertions. For example, last year there were over 16,000 gas leaks across the state, or 44 new ones every day, from all pipe materials. These leaks can lead to potentially hazardous situations for millions of residents, resulting in explosive incidents, either directly or due to proximate causes such as attempts at repair.
Management and Regulatory Deficiencies
Gaps in regulatory oversight and utility management compound system risks. Chronic problems with gas company operations and maintenance can be mitigated. In addition, the Department of Public Utilities could strengthen oversight by enforcing current regulations, enhancing gas leaks classifications of potentially explosive leaks, and collecting and verifying data from the utilities for municipalities and customers.
Additional Safety Risks
Explosive dangers capture attention, but there are also longer-term risks of piping gas under our streets and into buildings. Both household residents and gas workers breathe in the multiple chemicals found in fracked gas. The gas system damages property, including trees, is vulnerable to homeland security threats, and catalyzes global warming.
“By fixing the worst problems we can mitigate high-probability, high-impact risks while we transition to cleaner, safer, more cost-effective heating and cooking solutions,” states Ania Camargo, co-chair of Gas Leaks Allies. “Gas utilities can choose to become thermal utilities that sell thermal storage, solar thermal, or own and operate geothermal district heat. These solutions are available now.”