Gas Leaks Delay Tree Planting

Dustin D. Luca published the following story in the Salem News (September 19, 2017).

SALEM — Slow, small natural gas leaks are sidelining city plans to plant trees, and local leaders are calling for action to pressure utility companies to plug those leaks.

The City Council is sending a letter to Beacon Hill urging legislators to support a bill that would prevent natural gas customers “from paying for leaked and unaccounted for gas” — a measure councilors hope will prompt National Grid to fix the leaks, which are suspected of killing trees in Salem.

There were more than 60 documented natural gas leaks in the city at the beginning of this year. In 2016, the gas company plugged 99 leaks, according to maps available on HEETMA.org. Gas lost by these leaks is known as UFG, or “unaccounted for gas.”

Although the legislation would save natural gas customers on their utility bills, city councilors were urged to support it by the Salem Alliance for the Environment — SAFE, for short — not to save money, but to protect trees. SAFE says gas leaks kill shade trees by depriving their roots of oxygen.

Throughout the summer, the city conducted a tree inventory on the species of street trees and their health. SAFE often measured natural gas leaks simultaneous to that inventory to look for correlations between dead trees and leaking gas. But in many cases, the information came too late — once the tree was beyond saving or already gone.

That, in turn, has delayed the city’s plan to plant more trees, for fear they will be doomed before they take root.

“We’re going to be planting approximately 219 trees across the city, shade trees along our streets, in the coming year,” said Ward 4 Councilor David Eppley. “Something SAFE has been phenomenal with trying to educate us about … Natural gas really does impact not only our residents, it impacts our street trees.”

Pat Gozemba, co-chairwoman of SAFE, said a recent survey of 20 spots due for new trees showed that “10 of them are poisoned with gas.”

“They’ve already been marked by the city with Dig-Safe marks as the place where the trees will be planted,” Gozemba said. “We know definitely that 10 of those 20 sites we tested are poisoned, and we shouldn’t put trees in those sites.”

On Thursday night, the City Council passed a resolution urging state legislators to support House and Senate bills that “will provide economic incentive to gas providers to develop improved technology and practices for transportation, distribution and storage” of natural gas.

Leaking gas caught in soil “is harmful to vegetation and can kill valuable shade trees by depriving roots of oxygen,” the resolution said. That’s not to mention the possible consequences for humans, considering that methane, an ingredient in natural gas, is “a precursor to ozone formation that can decrease lung function and aggravate asthma,” the resolution reads.

While city leaders are looking to plant trees on more than 80 streets this fall, some are already being put on hold, according to Dominick Pangallo, chief of staff to Mayor Kim Driscoll.

The project “is changing based on input from abutting property owners and will also likewise change based on the outcome of gas testing in the tree pit locations,” Pangallo said.

Ward 7 Councilor Steve Dibble pressed for immediate action on the leaks and legislation to fix the issue.

“A gas leak that isn’t in a structure, isn’t in a house, isn’t in a catch basin — it’s in a street — can wait five years (to be fixed),” Dibble said. “(But) it isn’t fair to a neighborhood to be smelling the gas. What happens if they’re smelling it day after day after day, and there’s a leak (in a different spot)? They’re just not going to bother calling it in, because they’ll think it’s the same smell.”

Councilors voted 10-0 to support the resolution, with Ward 3 Councilor Steve Lovely absent.

Tree trimming still on hold.

At the same time, a hold on “tree pruning” in Salem was also extended. That delay first went into effect a few months ago. It prohibits utility companies like National Grid from doing any cutting on trees unless the moratorium is lifted or the city’s tree warden or City Council signs off on specific examples. Emergency pruning is still allowed.

Under an order proposed by Eppley, the moratorium was extended to Nov. 15 with no discussion. A future meeting will dig into the pruning issue.

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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.”

Rotterdam Addresses Climate Impact with Innovative Infrastructure

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In a recent blog post for the Nonprofit Quarterly, SAFE board member Karen Kahn wrote about how Rotterdam, another urban industrial coastal city is addressing climate change.

Despite President Trump having pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, scientists agree that the future of our planet is in jeopardy. In many parts of the world, the effects of climate change are simply undeniable: Seas are rising, storms are getting worse, and drought is forcing millions to migrate.

A consensus is emerging that we can no longer focus solely on reducing carbon emissions in order to keep our planet habitable. Even if countries meet their targets under the Paris Agreement, the global community has not moved quickly enough to save us from environmental changes that are already disrupting populations worldwide. At this point, renewable energy strategies must be combined with adaptation and mitigation to reduce the severity of floods, droughts, and other climate change impacts around the world. (As of this writing, the temperature in Phoenix, Arizona, is expected to reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, with temperatures over 110 degrees for the entire week.)

Coastal cities are among the geographic areas under most immediate threat, and in many cases, it is these municipalities that are leading the way toward innovative solutions. In a recent New York Times article, Michael Kimmelman profiles the city of Rotterdam, where visionary leadership is transforming an old industrial landscape into one that is cosmopolitan, climate-resilient, and community-oriented.

Read the full article here.

Join SAFE for Climate March, April 29

“The damage from climate change isn’t just coming in the future, it’s part of the present,” says New York Times writer David Leonhardt, introducing this week’s Sunday Times magazine special. The Times includes a wide array of stories this week that track the melting of Arctic sea ice, island nations sinking into the sea, and increased flooding in many of our major urban areas. Yet the president of the United States wants to drill more oil and dig more coal. As Bill McKibben says in his Sunday Review essay, our current president could easily waste so much time that the Earth will not recover—at least not in time to save humans.

So let your voices be heard.  Saturday, April 29, join the Boston People’s Climate March. SAFE will meeting at the Wonderland MBTA station at 10:30 am on the Inbound platform to go into the Common, where a climate rally begins at 12 noon. If you can’t meet at Wonderland, join us at Park Street Station by 11:45 to head over to the rally. Look for the SAFE banner:

SAFEScreen shot 2012-07-03 at 2.35.27 PMThe Boston People’s Climate March is a being organized by local groups from environmental justice, labor, youth, faith, and climate activism. They are hosting a day full of powerful events that include:

  • 11:30am-12:00pm
    Music and gathering at the Parkman Bandstand on the Boston Common
  • 12:00-1:00pm
    Rally for Climate, Jobs, and Justice on the Common
  • 1:00-4:00pm
    Action tables and activities from local organizations on the Common and Climate Justice Teach-ins at nearby indoor locations (see details and sign-up here!)

For more information, contact Pat Gozemba at pgozemba@gmail.com.

 

 

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.

Free screening of documentary film ‘Time to Choose’

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Tue, Feb 28 @ 6:30 pm
First Church in Salem, UU
316 Essex St.
Salem, MA 01970

Join us for a FREE screening of “Time to Choose,” a documentary by Charles Ferguson about the urgent need to transition to renewable energy.

With footage from five continents, “Time to Choose” explores the scope of the climate change crisis and the power of solutions already available. Learn more about this inspiring film and watch the trailer here, http://www.timetochoose.com/
6:30 – 7:00 Social hour / light refreshments
7:00 – 7:15 Welcome
7:15 – 8:30 Film
8:30 – 9:00 Optional Q&A

Ironic Snow Date: Wed., March 1

SPONSORED BY:
* Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE)
* North Shore 350, the North Shore Environmental Coalition, & Citizens Climate Lobby North Shore

*Action Together North Shore

For more information, visit www.SalemSAFE.org

 

GMO: New Data Raises Doubts About Benefits

7730023-corn-crop-stock-photoIn a recent expose in the New York Times, reporter Danny Hakim makes a compelling case that the promoters of genetically modified (GM) crops such as Monsanto are overselling their case. GM crops are supposed to have two main benefits: increased yields and reduced need for pesticides and herbicides.

In comparing American agriculture, where GM crops are common, to those of France and Western Europe where the seeds are rare, Hakim finds that over the last two decades France has been able to increase yields at about the same rate as the U.S. while much more effectively reducing pesticide and herbicide use.

Over two decades, the U.S. has reduced the use of insecticides and fungicides with GM crops by 33 percent. But at the same time, herbicide use has increased by 21 percent.

Compare this to France: Here,  insecticide and fungicide use has been decreased by 66, while herbicide use has decreased by 33 percent.

Though the impact of eating GM crops remains controversial, one thing is not: pesticides and herbicides have been shown to be a significant risk to human health, particularly children. So why are we taking these risks? Read more.