Green Acton interacts with issues around natural gas (NG) infrastructure, both existing and potential, in at least two areas: (1) the multitude of leaks in NG infrastructure across the Commonwealth, including Acton, and (2) the building of new NG infrastructure in the state and locally. We advocate that NG leaks need to be repaired/eliminated, and that building new fossil fuel infrastructure in the state takes the Commonwealth down the wrong energy path. It’s important to note that natural gas is primarily methane — a potent greenhouse gas that causes 86 times the warming of CO2 over a 20-year period.
Natural Gas Leaks
Massachusetts has one of the oldest systems of NG pipes in the country; its more than 20,000 leaks are a waste of resource and money, and represent safety, environmental, and health threats. They account for 8–12 billion cubic feet (and perhaps more) of lost gas that cost taxpayers nearly $39M in 2015. These leaks account for the equivalent of one million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually.
In 2014, the Environmental Defense Fund and Google issued a series of maps identifying the thousands of active natural gas leaks in the Boston area. MAPC (Metropolitan Area Planning Commission) and the nonprofit HEET (Home Energy Efficiency Team) teamed up in 2015 to conduct a year-long pilot study of gas leaks in several Metrowest towns; the ensuing report will become public in fall 2016.
Acton has more than its share of leaks. You can see a map of Massachusetts natural gas leaks, including Acton’s, here.
Leaks are assigned a “grade” that captures info about their urgency. A Grade 1 leak is a leak that represents an existing or probable hazard to persons or property, and requires immediate repair or continuous action until the conditions are no longer hazardous. A Grade 2 leak is a leak that is recognized as being non-hazardous at the time of detection, but justifies scheduled repair based on probable future hazard. A Grade 3 leak is non-hazardous at the time of detection and can be reasonably expected to remain non-hazardous.
In 2016, the MA Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, legislation to address repair of NG leaks. One of the impacts of the legislation is to “bump up” the repair schedule for Grade 3 leaks by directing that evaluation of their urgency include any “significant environmental impact” (definition of that still TBD) they may be having; the legislation also requires establishment of a timeline for repair. Another section of the legislation mandates that during a significant road project, companies have to survey for leaks that have a significant environmental impact, and establish repair and replacement plans for those leaks. Enactment of these repairs will be a complex business that will likely take years.
Here are resources for more info:
New Natural Gas Infrastructure
Locally: We believe that NG infrastructure at the local level also takes us in the wrong direction, locking us into use of the climate-heating fuel for decades to come. In 2015 Green Acton began to attend to local NG infrastructure, spurred primarily by the fairly standard permitting of NG hookups for new housing construction in Acton. GA members have testified against establishment of new local gas hookups; you can read more about that here.
Regionally: We opposed the Northeast Direct (NED) project, a natural gas pipeline and compressor-station system (proposed by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline division of Kinder Morgan), whose route would have traversed much of Massachusetts and perhaps some of New Hampshire. We considered it unnecessary, and dangerous to fragile ecosystems, farmland, aquifers, and protected open space. We also recognize that every new pipeline or extension of service encourages the destructive and dangerous fracking industry.
Update: In April 2016, Kinder Morgan suspended further work and expenditure on the proposed 120-mile pipeline. The company cited inadequate capacity commitments from prospective customers in explaining the decision; yet it’s widely thought that the level of opposition the pipeline faced from activists, municipalities, and NGOs, as well as the skepticism of some legislators and the Attorney General’s office, were instrumental in shaping the decision.
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