Climate Activists Praise Shift In Gas Leak Repair Practices
Environmental activists, often at odds with companies involved in the natural gas business, are praising a public utility in western Massachusetts for adopting a new strategy when it comes to fixing leaking pipes.
Columbia Gas of Massachusetts estimates there are currently about 2,400 gas leaks in its service territory that consists of 60 cities and towns in western Massachusetts. That number includes 566 leaks in the city of Springfield and 90 leaks in Northampton.
The leaks, classified as “Grade 3,” do not pose a risk to life and property and had not been a priority for repair – until now.
Steve Bryant, president of Columbia Gas, this week announced a new program to prioritize the worst of the leaks and begin immediate repairs.
" We will be undertaking this as rapidly as we can, striking the right balance between getting these leaks done in a cost effective manner and making sure we do the right ones first," said Bryant.
He estimated the company might do 100-200 repairs a year with the goal of eradicating all the Grade 3 leaks within eight years.
The change in the company’s leak repair strategy came at the urging of members of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition who last April initiated a series of meetings with Columbia Gas Co. representatives where they highlighted the harm methane gas leaks do to the atmosphere.
" What we came to when we collaboratively came together is that if we tackle the leaks from a methane point of view we will solve all the other problems, if there are any, at the same time," explained Bryant.
Jesse Lederman, director of Public Health and Environmental Initiatives at Arise for Social Justice, said Columbia Gas took seriously the activists’ concerns and the result is a major shift in the way a gas distributor practices repairs.
" The actions of Columbia Gas are one of the finest examples of corporate responsibility and stewardship that we have every seen," he said.
Marty Nathan, a physician and environmental activist from Northampton, said the new repair program announced by Columbia Gas should become the standard for the gas distribution industry.
" Methane is cleaner in many ways than coal and oil when it is burned, but it is not cleaner by any means when it is emitted from drilling or leaky pipes," said Dr. Nathan.
A study in Boston estimated that the largest Grade 3 leaks waste about $1,400 worth of gas a year. It costs an average of $4,000 to repair a leak, meaning there is a return on investment in less than three years, according to Audrey Schulman, president of the Home Energy Efficiency Team, a Massachusetts non-profit that promotes initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.
" This is a smart and practical and far-sighted action to take and Columbia Gas is way ahead on this,"she said.
Most of the natural gas in western Massachusetts is transmitted under the streets in cast iron pipes that are more than a century old. Bryant said Columbia Gas aims to replace all that aging infrastructure over the next 15 years.