Looking for gas leaks? Listen to the trees

salem new photo safe gasIn this Salem News article (August 8, 2017) reporter Dustin Luca covers SAFE’s effort to address Salem’s deteriorating gas infrastructure. Photo by: Ken Yuszkus

SALEM — Environmental advocates are looking to the quietest victims to point out natural gas leaks: trees.

The Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE), Salem Sound Coastwatch and city officials are working to find natural gas leaks as the city undergoes a wide-reaching street tree inventory.

There were more than 60 such natural gas leaks in Salem at the beginning of the year, while 99 had been plugged in 2016, according to maps available on HEETMA.org.

“SAFE heard about these gas leaks,” said Pat Gozemba, a co-chairperson of SAFE. “We got concerned initially because we realize that the kinds of gains that Massachusetts was making in terms of renewable energy — or the establishment of more and more renewable energy, which thus cut down on greenhouse gas emissions — was being offset by all the methane gas that was leaking from the aging infrastructure.”

Utility companies have been chasing small leaks in their networks of pipes for years now, as the ingredients in the gas has led to more leaks, Gozemba said.

Decades ago, pipes were put together with jute used to seal connections at joints.

“That was at a time when the natural gas that was coming through the pipeline had a lot more water in it,” Gozemba said.

But as the water content dropped, Gozemba said the jute used in the joints contracted. The result was several slow leaks.

These leaks aren’t necessarily dangerous. They aren’t detectable without a meter measuring the content of methane in the air. SAFE member Dave Rowand said it typically takes an unexplained dead tree to signal where there may be a leak.

Using trees as gas leak indicators isn’t new.

“As part of the training in the gas company, when they send crews out to look for the gas leaks, that’s one of the things they’re told — look for dead or dying trees,” Gozemba said. “That’s an indicator that there could be a gas leak there.”

The reason why? Trees need oxygen to grow.

“Gas percolates up through the soil and can drive out the oxygen, which is necessary for trees to survive,” Rowand said. “Any tree we see that’s distressed, dead or dying, there’s a possibility there’s a gas leak in the vicinity.”

What’s new about this process, however, is the volunteer effort to find leaks that utility companies might have missed. Any number of factors could conceal a small leak. Wind could dissipate leaking methane, for example.

“The hope with the information is that we can give more data to the gas company so they can be more aggressive about fixing these leaks, particularly leaks that are affecting these trees — which are, after all, the lungs of the Earth,” Gozemba said. “We’ll be able to share it with National Grid, and hopefully it’ll get National Grid to repair them.”

Ward 7 Councilor Steve Dibble, who represents southeast Salem, has been a vocal advocate for the trees and what methane, which is an ingredient in natural gas, in can do to them.

“On Buchanan Road, a bunch of neighbors have complained about the quality of the trees — trees dying,” Dibble said, “and two of the neighbors linked it to gas leaks.”

A HEETMA map of both leaks repaired in recent years and current known leaks shows that one leak was fixed Sept. 8 in the area of 20 Buchanan Road. There are no other leaks identified nearby. The next closest leak on the map is on Jefferson Avenue.

“We want to work with the gas company and get these lines repaired, so the study going on to find these gas leaks is a good thing,” Dibble said. “And we need to hold the gas company’s feet to the fire and get them all repaired.”

The LORAX Task Force — a group of tree advocates advancing an arbor-friendly agenda — is hammering out details for a tree ordinance due to be presented to the City Council in the coming months, Dibble said. He also plans to file something with the councilors that would “require a higher level of service to get these leaks repaired and lines replaced,” he said.

“Boston has a good ordinance now that’s on the books, but we don’t have one here in Salem,” Dibble said. “And I think we need one.”

Gas Leaks Kill Trees

One of SAFE’s major projects is addressing natural gas leaks throughout our city. These leaks, which are the result of decaying infrastructure, negatively impact our environment in multiple ways. In our latest video, we look at how natural gas leaks affect the trees that line our streets. Do you have a dead or dying tree on your block? Perhaps there is a persistent gas leak. Watch the video below to learn more.

 

You can also catch the video on SATV at the following times:

  • April 6 at 2:30 PM
  • April 8 at 3:30 PM
  • April 11 at 10:30 AM
  • April 13 at 2:30 PM
For more information on the gas leaks project, click here.

SJC nixes ‘pipeline tax’/Says Baker administration order violated intent of earlier laws

Ratepayers will not have not pay a special tax so that new natural gas pipelines can be built in Massachusetts.

From Bruce Mohl (Editor, CommonWealth Magazine) —

THE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT ruled on Wednesday that the Baker administration can not authorize the state’s electric utilities to tap their ratepayers for the money to finance a new natural gas pipeline into the region…

A new pipeline was expected to bring more cheap gas into the region and reduce electric prices, but opponents said a new pipeline would only increase the region’s over-reliance on a fossil fuel that is contributing to global warming…

The ruling means efforts to build a new natural gas pipeline into the region are effectively dead, although pipeline backers have said they will find another way to get the job done…

Attorney General Maura Healey joined the plaintiffs in opposing the DPU order. In a statement, she said “we know from our 2015 electric reliability study that there are cleaner and more affordable options for meeting our energy needs. The court’s decision makes clear that if pipeline developers want to build new projects in this state, they will need to find a source of financing other than electric ratepayers’ wallets.”

Read more.

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One of the ads against the pipeline tax. From www.NoCompressor.com

Utilities under pressure to fix small gas leaks

Gas leaks that are a distance from buildings didn’t used to have to be repaired. That’s all hopefully changing.

From Christian Wade, who covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News:

quotation marks

A recent Boston University study of 100 gas leaks in Greater Boston found that about 15 percent of those categorized as nonhazardous, “Grade 3” leaks are actually more serious Grade 1 leaks, [Audrey Schulman] said…

…Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, primary sponsor of the gas-leak measure, said utilities are focused on replacing old pipes rather than fixing leaks, which is slowing the process.

Consumers are unfairly saddled with the cost, she said.

“For the ratepayers, replacement is far more expensive than repair,” said Ehrlich. “This bill puts the focus back on repairs.”

Read more.

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Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, was the primary sponsor of the gas leak measure. “For the ratepayers, replacement is far more expensive than repair,” she said. “This bill puts the focus back on repairs.”

SAFE’s video of “Gas Pipelines and Salem’s Water Supply” now on YouTube and SATV

The June 28th presentations by Wayne Castonguay, Erin Bennett, PhD, and Cathy Kristofferson can now be seen on YouTube here.

In Salem, the video will air on channel 3 on these dates and times:
Friday, July 15, 2016: 9:30 PM
Monday, July 18, 2016: 6:00 AM
(go to SATV’s online schedule for future airings)

“Avoiding Flint – Protecting the Climate”
For more info, email salemsafe@gmail.com
Part I (0 to 32 minute marker)
Introductions by Jeff Barz-Snell, Co-Chair of SAFE
“The Voice of the River,” by Wayne Castonguay (Executive Director of the Ipswich River Watershed Association)

Part II (32 minute marker to 1 hour and 44 minute marker)
“Glyphosate 101: What is this stuff & how does it behave in the environment?” by Erin Bennett, PhD (Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, University of Windsor)
“Update on Gas Pipelines,” by Cathy Kristofferson (Liasion for Stop Northeast Energy Direct: StopNED) and Paula Terrasi (also with StopNED)

SAFE’s YouTube channel

wayne castonguay

“Gas Pipelines and Salem’s Water Supply,” Parts I and II, are now on YouTube

Go to SAFE’s YouTube channel to watch the recording of the June 28th event.

Video published on Jul 9, 2016

Avoiding Flint – Protecting the Climate
Sponsored by SAFE

Part I (0 to 32 minute marker)
Introductions by Jeff Barz-Snell, Co-Chair of SAFE
“The Voice of the River,” by Wayne Castonguay (Executive Director of the Ipswich River Watershed Association)

Part II (32 minute marker to 1 hour and 44 minute marker)
“Glyphosate 101: What is this stuff & how does it behave in the environment?” by Erin Bennett, PhD, (Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, University of Windsor)
“Update on Gas Pipelines,” by Cathy Kristofferson (Liaison for Stop Northeast Energy Direct: StopNED) and Paula Terrasi (also with StopNED)

Ends with a question-and-answer period.

Go directly to “Gas Pipelines and Salem’s Water Supply,” Parts I and II.

for facebook gas pipelines and Salem's water supply
The Flint, Michigan water crisis

June 28 SAFE event: “Avoiding Flint – Protecting the Climate”

Gas pipelines and Salem’s water supply: the recent proposal to build a gas pipeline here on the North Shore could adversely affect the drinking water supplies of North Shore communities. Massive amounts of weed killer (herbicide) is sprayed on a regular basis around these pipelines to prevent plants from growing near them. These herbicides can then wash into our rivers and streams, and our water supplies. Panel discussions and presentations by: Wayne Castonguay, Executive Director of the Ipswich River Watershed Association; Dr. Erin Bennett, Salem Resident and Environmental Chemist; and Cathy Kristofferson, Stop Northeast Energy Direct. Sponsored by Salem Alliance for the Environment.

To be held Tuesday, June 28, 7:00 PM at First Church in Salem, UU, 316 Essex Street, Salem, MA. For more info, email salemsafe@gmail.com or visit the Salem SAFE Facebook page.

ipswich river watershed.png

Missing gas leaks raising questions

The number of natural gas leaks in Massachusetts on record in 2014 dropped drastically on the first day of 2015. Audrey Schulman, president of HEET, comments on the accounting discrepancy (visit SAFE’s YouTube channel to see videos SAFE recorded of Audrey back in 2010; also see the SATV show SAFE recently produced, “Who Pays for Natural Gas Leaks?“).
From Boston Globe staff member, David Abel:

“This suggests that the utilities aren’t doing a good job tracking leaks,” said Audrey Schulman, president of the Home Energy Efficiency Team, or HEET, a Cambridge nonprofit that analyzed the data. “If they don’t have them on their books, they’re not monitoring them, and if they’re left unmonitored, leaks get worse.”

Utility companies are spending billions of dollars to replace leaky gas pipelines across the state, and repair leaks as quickly as possible, company officials say. The leaks, which are responsible for a significant portion of the state’s greenhouse gases, are often caused by corroding cast-iron pipes or construction accidents.

Read the Globe article.

 

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National Grid employee Lane Guidry connected the chute to the gas pipe./DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF

Pipeline opponents plan to pack upcoming hearings

In Georgia, the citizens just defeated a Kinder Morgan pipeline from being installed; in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, they’re currently fighting one; and WE ON THE NORTH SHORE need to fight the extension of it that they want to build right alongside the Ipswich River. It’s partly due to the fact that they’ll be tearing down fragile ecosystems in the Ipswich Watershed (part of our drinking water supply on the North Shore), but perhaps more urgently due to the fact that they’ll routinely and indefinitely have to spray very strong herbicides for 12 feet on either side of the pipeline to prevent tree roots from growing into it and damaging it. We can’t let them do that so close to our drinking water, nor in a protected ecosystem!

Furthermore, the Kinder Morgan pipeline will be carrying fracked gas. The process of fracking releases so much methane (a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2) into the atmosphere that it makes it a moot point that burning fracked gas releases less carbon dioxide than burning coal.

From Christian M. Wade, Statehouse Reporter, in the Eagle-Tribune on April 5, 2016:

State officials are planning six hearings over the next two weeks, including one Wednesday at Lynnfield Middle School and another at Andover High School on Thursday, April 14. Both begin at 7 p.m.

“We don’t want this company to run a destructive and potentially dangerous high-pressure, fracked gas pipeline across our community,” said Bob Croce, who heads an opposition group in Peabody. “And we certainly don’t want the state to give them permission to trample over property rights and conservation land for a pipeline project that wouldn’t benefit us at all.”

Kinder Morgan and its subsidiary want to pump gas from the Marcellus shale region across Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire.

Its pipeline would connect with other proposed and existing lines through Haverhill, Methuen and Andover. Smaller, lateral pipelines are proposed through Peabody, Danvers and Lynnfield…

Wayne Castonguay, executive director of the Ipswich River Watershed Association, said environmentalists are particularly concerned about a section of pipeline that would run along the Ipswich River — a drinking water source.

Besides the impact on wetlands and wildlife, he worries about the use of herbicides to clear the pipeline of brush.

“More than 300,000 people drink water from the Ipswich River every day,” Castonguay said. “There’s no way to mechanically clear the vegetation, so they have no choice but to use herbicides, which raises serious public health concerns….”

Project opponents — including Attorney General Maura Healey — contend that the demand for natural gas is exaggerated.

Read the whole article.

KMIs-Unparalleled-Asset-FootprintImage from marketrealist.com

Letter to the editor (not published yet) re: Kinder-Morgan pipeline

From Rabbi Judy Weiss in Brookline, a well-known LTE writer and champion of climate causes:

From: Judy Weiss
Subject: Letter to editor
To: northshore@wickedlocal.com

Dear Editor,
Charlotte Kahn’s climate change column is excellent, as always. But she made one questionable comment: regarding public protests against proposals for new Kinder Morgan pipelines to carry gas for sale abroad, she wrote “victory seems improbable.” Actually, property owners in conservative Georgia created such an uproar opposing a new Kinder Morgan pipeline to carry gas across Georgia to Florida, that Republican legislators in Georgia sponsored legislation “to enact a temporary moratorium on the use of eminent domain for construction of petroleum pipelines and the permitting for construction of such pipelines so that a commission of elected officials and field experts can conduct a detailed study.”

Kinder Morgan decided to suspend further work following the Georgia legislature’s action.

If Bay Staters make as much noise as Georgians, our legislature, Governor, Rep. Seth Moulton and even Kinder Morgan will hear, and victory will be ours!

Judy Weiss
Brookline, MA 02446
Volunteer member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby

 

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Rabbi Judy Weiss lives in Brookline, MA. She teaches Hebrew Bible locally, and volunteers on climate change advocacy both locally and nationally.