Monthly Archives: November 2017

Salem News: Repair Leaks the Gas Leaks

The Salem News reminds residents to keep the pressure on the utilities to repair gas leaks. National Grid reports 62 leaks in Salem; SAFE in its own survey identified at least 232 leaks. That data will be reviewed tonight, November 28, at “The Hidden Cost of Gas Leaks” forum, at the Salem State Enterprise Center. The program begins at 7 pm.

In Our View, the Salem News editor writes:

Local environmentalists —  including, notably, Marblehead state Rep. Lori Ehrlich — have been pushing for years to get National Grid and other utilities to plug the tens of thousands of small gas leaks throughout the state. They’ve made some progress, but not nearly enough.

So organizations like Salem Alliance for the Environment, better known as SAFE, deserve accolades for keeping this issue on the front burner. The group is sponsoring a forum Tuesday night at Salem State University called “The Hidden Costs of Salem’s Gas Leaks,” to try to educate the public and mobilize the community behind state legislation aimed at forcing utilities to do a better job.

While Salem’s event is locally focused, the problem affects the entire region. According to utility reports, Salem had 62 gas leaks at the end of 2016, which puts it better off than some of its neighbors; Peabody had 154, Marblehead 117, and Lynn 267. Elsewhere in the region Gloucester had 43 leaks last year, Lawrence 110 and Newburyport 18.

The leaks are graded on a scale of 1 to 3, with 1 being the most severe, and 3 the weakest. (Those interested in finding out where the gas leaks are in their community can consult the interactive map put together by the Cambridge-based nonprofit The Home Energy Efficiency Team at https://www.heetma.org/squeaky-leak/natural-gas-leaks-maps/)

And those numbers are just from utility reports. SAFE, which worked with Gas Safety Inc. last year to track gas leaks in Salem, identified 232 in the city. Moreover, the group correlated gas leaks with dying street trees. Their work was so convincing that Salem has halted planting of new trees in some areas until the utilities repair the leaks.

“The whole matter of gas leaks is unacceptable,” Salem City Councilor Steve Dibble said. “While this gas is coming out, it’s hurting the environment — actually killing trees throughout the city of Salem. It’s bad for humans, and it just isn’t a safe practice.”

Dibble is certainly right about the risks. Folks in Gloucester still recall the destruction of an East Main Street home that exploded when gas leaked into the basement. Many of the gas lines in the city date back to 1911.

That’s part of the problem. Repairing or replacing old or faulty lines is costly, time-consuming business.

“It’s an issue we’ve been aggressively tackling,” National Grid spokesman Bob Kievra told reporter Dustin Luca. Kievra said his company hopes to eliminate all Grade 3 leaks over the next decade.

Kievra said the work comes with a “pretty impressive” price tag. According to The Home Energy Efficiency Team, there were 16,507 active gas leaks across Massachusetts in 2016. There were 11,930 leaks that had been repaired in that time. A 2015 Harvard University study estimated the gas leaking from those faulty or broken pipes costs utilities $120 million a year.

Activists and public safety officials urge residents to report leaks, no matter how small.

“We want people to … just be really vigilant about gas leaks around their homes and houses, their buildings, places, wherever they smell gas,” SAFE’s Pat Gozemba said. “The worst thing that can happen is people get complacent about the smell of gas, and you take it for granted — because you never know when another gas leak is beginning, and that gas leak is the one that could blow.”

Right now, however, there’s little incentive to plug street leaks deemed “nonhazardous,” since the utilities just pass on the cost of the escaping gas to their customers. SAFE is backing a bill at the state Legislature to prevent charging ratepayers for that gas. It’s a sensible proposal — ratepayers shouldn’t be paying for gas that doesn’t reach their homes, most certainly when the escaped gas is killing the trees in their neighborhood. Mayor Kim Driscoll and the Salem City Council have backed those efforts, which deserve region-wide support.

This kind of advocacy will be needed to win this years-long struggle to get utilities to expedite their repairs, and we hope other voices will join in, too.

Advertisements

Salem News: SAFE Gas Leaks Forum 11.28.17

Dustin Luca of the Salem News “gets” the significance of all of the gas leaks in Salem–anywhere from 232 to more than 1,000. Learn why there is such a wide discrepancy between SAFE’s data and the official count of leaks from National Grid.

SALEM — Environmental advocates have been working for months to spotlight slow-flowing gas leaks across the city. Now, they’re kicking their efforts into high gear and looking for support.

Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE), Mayor Kim Driscoll and others will come together Tuesday at a forum aimed at identifying “The Hidden Costs of Salem’s Gas Leaks.” The event will take place at Salem State University’s Enterprise Center from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

“We don’t want to keep saying, ‘there’s all these gas leaks,’ and then say that again six months later,” said Pat Gozemba, co-chairperson of SAFE. “What we’re hoping to do is mobilize the community.”

Gas leaks are frequently discussed, often complained about and even routinely patched. But for the last couple years, the amount of protest in Salem has grown.

Bob Kievra, a spokesman for National Grid, said there were 84 gas leaks in Salem as of Oct. 1.

In Salem, however, the leaks have been linked to dying trees around the city. The leaks trap gas in the soil, starving tree root systems of the oxygen they need to breathe.

“The whole matter of gas leaks is unacceptable,” said Ward 7 City Councilor Steve Dibble. “While this gas is coming out, it’s hurting the environment — actually killing trees throughout the city of Salem. It’s bad for humans, and it just isn’t a safe practice.”

Dibble filed an ordinance with the City Council on Sept. 28 that, among other things, would require gas companies like National Grid to expedite gas leak repairs.

The ordinance is due to be fine-tuned following SAFE’s event next week and discussed in December, Dibble said, with the possibility of a vote toward the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

“From our side, with the local ordinance, we’ll open a mechanism to allow the city to recoup the costs of the dead or dying trees caused by the gas leaks,” he said. “It’ll also require the gas company to work with the city of Salem in advance (on setting up utility work).”

National Grid assigns three grading levels to gas leaks — grade 1 is the most severe, while grade 3 leaks are the weakest.

“We’re working to eliminate all grade-3 leaks in 10 years,” Kievra said. “It’s an issue we’ve been aggressively tackling.”

Kievra said the price tag on the work “is pretty impressive,” but that’s because the utility company is working on leaks statewide. According to a map of gas leaks in Massachusetts on HEETMA.org, there were 16,507 active leaks across the state at the end of 2016. Last year, 11,930 leaks had been repaired across the state — 99 of them in Salem.

But SAFE argues that the number of leaks in Salem is larger than what’s reported. For instance, although National Grid said there were 62 leaks in the city at the end of 2016, Gozemba said SAFE measured 232.

“Next month, December, they’ll have to report for 2017 how many gas leaks there are in the city of Salem,” Gozemba said. “We’ll be very interested in seeing how many they report, and how many they’ve fixed.”

Last August, SAFE worked with Bob Ackley, president of Gas Safety, Inc. to identify and track all gas leaks in Salem, leading officials to the 232 leaks number. Ackley also tested sites where trees were scheduled to be planted and found that 26 of the 246 spots registered levels of gas high enough to kill a tree.

In September, the City Council learned that other tree plantings were being put on hold as work was done to identify and push for the repair of the leaks.

The forum next week will pull all these efforts together to get residents to support pressuring National Grid to make repairs.

Part of that involves supporting Dibble’s ordinance, as well as five bills before state lawmakers this year — one of which seeks to stop utility companies from charging rate payers en-masse for the leaked gas.

Gozemba said SAFE also hopes the forum will encourage residents to report gas leaks to the Fire Department, which in turn notifies National Grid of a problem.

“The other thing we want people to do is just be really vigilant about gas leaks around their homes and houses, their buildings, places, wherever they smell gas,” Gozemba said. “The worst thing that can happen is people get complacent about the smell of gas, and you take it for granted — because you never know when another gas leak is beginning, and that gas leak is the one that could blow.”

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

SAFE Sponsored Gas Leaks Forum Nov. 28

LoGas Leak Flyer_FinalFinal2_Low ResSalem Gazette features a story by William Dowd on the upcoming Nov. 28th gas leaks forum:

A Salem Alliance for the Environment public forum aims to, in part, raise the public’s conscience about an epidemic of leaky pipes spewing out natural gas across the city.

“The Hidden Cost of Salem’s Gas Leaks” is the name of the forum to take place in Salem State University’s Enterprise Center, 121 Loring Ave., on Nov. 28 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The event is open to the public.

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, SAFE co-chair Pat Gozemba, Boston University Professor and tree scientist Nathan Phillips, President of Gas Leaks, Inc. Bob Ackley and Salem State University and geographer and graphic information science specialist Marcos Luna constitute the 90-minute program’s presenters and speakers.

In a recent interview with the Salem Gazette, Gozemba shared SAFE tapped Ackley and Phillips, widely considered the region’s gas-leaks expert, to survey Salem’s 93 miles of roads over a two month period, a project that got underway in Aug. 29, 2016. The survey’s results, released exactly a month later on Sept. 29, 2016, located 232 gas leaks.

The findings were nearly four times more than the 62 gas leaks that National Grid reported three months later. The public can view National Grid’s gas-leaks data at http://bit.ly/2A9wEK0.

The cost of leaking natural gas is multilayered and has adverse impacts on public safety and health as well as the environment: Leaks kill trees, add to climate change, can be ticking time bombs, harms human health erodes air-quality.

“Leaking natural gas pipelines are a prevalent and correctable problem, not just in Salem but across the commonwealth,” wrote Driscoll in an article posted to SAFE’s website in October. “Ninety-five percent of natural gas is methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and fully 10 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to be from these gas leaks.”

She added, “These impacts are worsened because as leaked methane kills off city trees, it reduces our canopy and further erodes our ability to combat climate change.”

Moreover, Gozemba said ratepayers absorb the cost of lost, unaccounted natural gas leaving pipes. Driscoll even mentioned the financial burden placed on ratepayers.

“Natural gas leaks are a cost directly passed on to Salem consumers,” wrote Driscoll in her article. “We need state action to put an end to that. Massachusetts ratepayers pay up to $135 million extra every year because of these leaks.”

Driscoll’s article published to SAFE’s website endorsed and expressed her shared support of a Salem City Council-passed resolution in September, urging state lawmakers pass the Consumer Cost Protection Bill. SAFE also lauded the resolution.

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich’s landmark 2014 law established a three-tier gas-leaks classification system that prioritizes leaky pipes for fixture by utility companies based on the infrastructures’ dangerousness. And updates to the law passed in 2016, mandate that gas companies not only share information about leaks but also prove that they’re progressively repairing those that they’re “merely monitoring.”

The Marblehead Democrat has said gas companies oftentimes do not suture up gas-leaks in pipes deemed “non-threatening” after breaking asphalt for projects.

“It’s like a surgeon with a patient on the table who came in to have his gallbladder removed seeing an artery gushing, and closing him up without fixing the artery,” she said when the Marblehead Board of Selectmen endorsed her gas leaks legislation two years ago.

Since 2012, Gozemba said, “SAFE has been supporting Massachusetts legislation to protect consumers from paying for leaking gas and encouraging gas companies to fix leaks before roads are repaved and then dug up again.”

Alongside the use of sophisticated technology and the smell of emanating gas, a bumper crop of sickened trees across the city is indicative of the issue’s reach, says Gozemba.

In the early stages of the SAFE-prompted gas leaks’ survey project, she recalled taking Driscoll on “a gas leaks safari” trip with Ackley and Phillips.

“We we’re going down Peabody Street and there were a whole bunch of dead or dying trees one side of the street, an indication of gas leaks,” she said. “Kim looked at me and said, ‘I remember when we planted these trees.’”

On reflection of that moment, Driscoll said: “Both sides of Peabody Street were planted with new trees at the same time, but clearly those on the side with gas present, more troublingly the side close to homes, did not survive. We’re concerned about the loss of trees, of course, but the potential danger to people is even more alarming.”

The concern was so great, Gozemba said, Driscoll called the gas company and reported the leaks on the spot.

In September, Ward 7 Councilor Stephen Dibble filed an ordinance, in part, regarding gas companies’ management and elimination of natural gas leaks in Salem. It was sent to city lawyers for review and is due back before the Salem City Council Dec. 7, said Gozemba.

From the forthcoming forum to Dibble’s proposed local law, Gozemba said the hope is “a bettered schedule around repairing gas leaks and to fix leaks before roads are repaved and then dug up again.”

350 MA Releases 2017-18 Legislative Agenda

SAFE has been collaborating with 350MA and is happy to express support for this year’s legislative agenda. This year’s priorities are renewable energy, improving infrastructure to stop methane gas leaks, and stopping the expansion of gas pipelines that will carry fracked gas to coastal communities for export:

Stop the Pipeline Tax ✧ Oppose any legislative effort to restore the pipeline tax and pursue other legislative avenues to resist fossil fuel infrastructure

Make Utilities Buy More Renewables ✧ Raise the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) so that electric utilities must more rapidly increase the percentage of electricity sourced from renewables to get us on a faster track to 100% renewable electricity.

Put a Price on Carbon ✧ Levy a price on carbon pollution and redistribute the revenue back to taxpayers.

Expand Solar Energy ✧ Raise or eliminate net metering caps, restore the net metering retail rate for all project types including community and large-scale solar, and provide funding for community and low-income solar initiatives.

Fix Gas Leaks ✧ Require that consumers not pay for leaked gas, incentivizing companies to fix leaks faster.

To learn more, and see the bill names and numbers of 350 Mass priority legislation, visit 350 Massachusetts 2017-2018 Legislative Agenda (PDF).