Massachusetts Energy Officials Urge Continued Efforts to Reduce Methane Leaks
BOSTON – Wednesday, July 16, 2014 – Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett today reiterated the importance of detecting and repairing natural gas distribution system leaks, following an announcement by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) of its efforts to map emissions. EDF, in collaboration with Google and Colorado State University, announced it has developed a tool to map emissions from the natural gas distribution system in four major U.S. cities, including Boston.
“This project underscores the importance of the Patrick Administration’s work to accelerate pipeline repairs and methane reductions. These efforts help to ensure public safety, reduce the economic impact of lost and unaccounted for gas, create jobs and to help us reach our ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets,” said Secretary Bartlett. “We have already taken steps to reduce these emissions in the Commonwealth and will continue to work with the gas companies on these efforts.”
Earlier this month, Governor Patrick signed into law a bill requiring all Grade 1 leaks, which are the most serious, to be repaired immediately, that Grade 2 leaks be repaired within 12 months, and Grade 3 leaks to be reevaluated. Both Grade 2 and Grade 3 leaks are considered non-hazardous. The new law also requires gas companies to file plans that include a timeline for removing all leak-prone infrastructure on an accelerated basis. In addition, the legislation amends DPU’s ability to fine gas companies for violations of gas pipeline safety rules, making it consistent with federal law. Companies can now be fined from $100,000 to $200,000 per violation up to $2 million.
Even before the new law was passed, the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) had provided for an expedited rate recovery mechanism for National Grid, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, and Liberty Utilities (formerly New England Gas Company), which provides the regulatory support for the companies to replace aging infrastructure more quickly than they otherwise would. Additionally, in September 2013, the DPU hired an independent consultant to review the companies’ procedures for identifying leak-prone pipe and the methods used to classify leaks in order to maintain the highest safety standards and to quantify the amount of gas that is lost and unaccounted for during transmission and distribution.
“Massachusetts has some of the oldest gas infrastructure in the country, and for that reason the Patrick Administration and the Massachusetts legislature have been much more proactive than many other states in requiring infrastructure replacement,” said DPU Chair Berwick, who also noted that the maps in the EDF project date from 2013, and that many of the leaks identified in Boston have already been repaired.
The Patrick Administration has set some of the most ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets in the nation. Through the Global Warming Solutions Act, the Commonwealth aims to reduce GHG emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.