City Council passes ordinance to address gas leaks

June 10, 2016 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – A member of the Boston-based Mothers Out Front was hoping not only would Springfield pass an ordinance supporting the elimination of natural gas leaks in the state, but that residents and local officials would support two bills in the State House that would address the problem.

Ania Camargo got at least part of her wish on June 6 as the Springfield City Council passed an ordinance supporting the effort to fix all gas leaks. Springfield joins 35 other cities and towns in the Commonwealth in the campaign.

Camargo appeared at a meeting about natural gas leaks conducted at Trinity Methodist Church on June 2 and sponsored by the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition (SCJC) and Arise for Social Justice said that while natural gas – which is 95 percent methane – has been sold to the public as a clean alternative to coal. In reality, methane is actually a significant green house gas and there are many leaks in the natural gas production and delivery system that allows it to leak into the atmosphere.

SCJC has recently called the public’s attention to more than 500 gas leaks in the city of Springfield alone. About 50 people attended the meeting.

“Every single piece of infrastructure is leaking,” Camargo said.

Boston, she continued, has 20,000 unresolved gas leaks. “It’s death by a 1,000 cuts,” Camargo added.

Camargo said studies indicate that about 2.7 percent of the natural gas in the delivery system leaks. Consumers pay for the leaked gas under a formula established by the Department of Public Utilities. She said in Springfield $2.3 million is paid for the wasted gas.

Camargo cited a Harvard University study that declared the problem of leaking methane in Boston is two to three times worse than previously estimated and the amount of methane that leaks could heat 200,000 homes.

She said an old infrastructure with rusted and corroded pipe has been the cause of many of the leaks. She noted in Boston, some of the gas pipe is iron with the joints sealed with jute  – technology of more than a century ago.

Besides adding to greenhouse gases, methane leaks are believed to aggravate asthmas through the creation of ozone, Camargo said.

Consumers have several ways to address the issue. One way to is switch the source of electricity for a household from natural gas generation to renewable generation, Camargo said. Another step is to generally support renewable sources of energy and oppose additional pipelines.

She also called for support of House Bill 2870, which would if passed protect “consumers of gas and electricity from paying for leaked and unaccounted for gas.” House Bill 2871 would require any leaks detected while a street is being repaired be fixed.

She added the Attorney General’s office would be having a “listening session” about environmental concerns later this month.    

"It’s not a Boston thing. It’s really across the state,” she said.

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