Salem 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.”