| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – In what was described as a precedent-setting agreement not only for the Commonwealth, but possibly the nation, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts has agreed to develop a new program to identify and fix 566 gas leaks in the city.
Steve Bryant, the president of Columbia Gas, made the announcement on Jan. 26 with Mayor Domenic Sarno and representatives from several activist groups present.
The leaks that would be addressed are called “Grade Three.” Bryant explained these are not the leaks that are fixed immediately as they pose risk to life and property or “Grade Two” leaks that are fixed within 12 months.
Grade Three leaks do release methane – a greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere, a fact the activists have brought to the gas company’s attention, Bryant said.
Bryant said that in the early stages of developing the plan to address the Grade Three leaks in Springfield, it’s believed it will take Columbia Gas eight years to fix them. He noted the company wants to address the estimated 2,400 Grade Three leaks that are in its service area in the 60 cities and towns it serves.
The company intends to address 100 of the leaks this year.
Bryant noted what the company must do is to replace the 100-year-old cast iron pipe that delivers natural gas to homes and businesses.
Although the cost overall is not known for certain at this time, Audrey Schulman, president of the Home Energy Efficiency Team, believes there would be a return of investment in less than three years.
Bryant explained there might be an initial increase in gas rates to pay for the infrastructure improvements, but he anticipates that increase would drop with the work being completed.
Jesse Lederman, director of Public Health and Environmental Initiatives at Arise for Social Justice, called the announcement “fantastic.” Arise has been part of organizations that called for Columbia Gas to take action in fixing the grade Three leaks in a letter sent to the organization last year.
“Columbia Gas took these concerns very seriously,” he said.
Lederman added, “Columbia Gas is one of the finest examples of corporate responsibility and stewardship we have ever seen.”