New State Law Targets Gas Leaks

From Bostonglobe.com (July 7, 2014) : State law targets gas leaks: Plan sets timetable to repair lines; customers to see savings in long run; By Erin Ailworth | Globe Staff   July 07, 2014

A blueprint to speed repairs to thousands of leaks in natural gas pipelines across the state — reducing the threat of explosions and eventually saving consumers millions of dollars — will be unveiled Monday in Springfield.

The effort, authorized by recently passed legislation, creates a uniform system that classifies the severity of leaks and sets a timeline for their repair based on the risks. It also allows utilities to more quickly recover the costs of repairs from customers in the form of higher rates.

Those repairs could add an estimated $1 to $2 a month to the average gas bill, industry officials say. But over the longer term, Massachusetts customers could save tens of millions of dollars a year once all gas leaks are repaired. That’s because they will no longer have to pay for gas lost to those leaks.

Local utilities respond to tens of thousands of calls about potential gas leaks each year and reported more than 25,000 leaks to regulators at the end of September.

“As this flammable gas travels under our feet in often archaic pipes, I’m thrilled we are compelling gas companies to track their known leaks in a more transparent and uniform way,” said state Representative Lori Ehrlich, a Democrat from Marblehead who has long pushed to repair gas leaks. “The stakes are too high.”

Natural gas explosions, including one in April that injured 11 people in Dorchester, have called attention to the problem, but the issue has gathered momentum as researchers have quantified the amount of gas lost from thousands of small leaks in aging pipelines, and the costs — to customers and the environment.

A federal study commissioned by Senator Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat, shows that in Massachusetts alone, natural gas consumers paid up to $1.5 billion from 2000 to 2011 for gas that never made it to them because of leaks. In addition, natural gas used to heat homes is mostly methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Several legislators filed gas leak bills this session. Industry and environmentalists worked with local political leaders to craft a compromise version passed by the Legislature and approved by Patrick on June 26. The law also requires utilities to fix all but the least hazardous of leaks whenever road construction projects expose a pipeline and to give priority to leaks within 50 feet of a school.

Earlier versions of the bill went further, requiring, for instance, that all leaks be repaired during road construction and giving priority to places of public assembly, such as churches and hospitals, not just schools.

Despite the changes, lawmakers said it achieves most of their goals. State Representative John D. Keenan, a Salem Democrat who also filed a gas leaks repair bill, called the new law a “great success.”

Utilities said the law not only allows them to repair leaks faster and recover costs in a timely manner but also has provisions that will allow them to bring natural gas service to more Massachusetts residents. Natural gas in recent years has been significantly cheaper than heating oil.

“This will allow us to accelerate the replacement of aging infrastructure,” said Thomas M. Kiley, chief executive of the Northeast Gas Association, a Needham-based industry group that represents gas utilities. “The bottom line is that there are going to be less leaks going forward.”

On Monday, Patrick will join state officials for an event publicizing the law in Springfield, where a natural gas explosion leveled a club in 2012 and injured more than a dozen. The State Fire Marshal said a worker from Columbia Gas of Massachusetts accidentally punctured a high pressure gas line at the foundation of the building while investigating a gas odor.

Markey is pushing two bills at the federal level. One, similar to the Massachusetts law, aims to revamp pipeline development and repair policies to address the biggest leaks first while making it easier for utilities to recover their costs. The other would create a program to help finance such projects with federal money and matching funds from states.

Markey said the new state law is a precursor to his national plan. “Massachusetts is yet again leading the way for the nation on energy and climate change,” he said.

Related:  Map: Gas leaks in eastern Mass.

Environment: Gas Leaks bill now no. 3873

To follow the current status see H3873

The version of the bill that emerged in the Senate (S.2073) was weaker and less comprehensive than the environmental community had hoped.  There will be several amendments offered.  To ensure the bill is strong, please encourage your senator to support the amendments that Senator Eldridge and Senator Creem have filed.  Call your senator and these other significant persons this morning:  Your Senator , Call the Switchboard at 617-722-1276 to be connected or look it up at www.wheredoIvotema. or www.malegislature.gov.   Senator Steven Brewer, Chairman, Senate Ways and Means,   617-722-1540.  Senator Ben Downing, Chairman, Senate Committee on Telecom, Utilities & Energy  617-722-1625.  Senate President Therese Murray, 617-722-1500,  Suggested Call Script: “Hi, my name is ___ and I am calling in regards to S2073, the gas leaks bill. The vote on this bill is Today and we need a stronger bill. I am concerned about the thousands of gas leaks in Massachusetts because of the damage to our environment, threat to public safety and cost to consumers. I am asking Senator ______ to support changes that increase transparency, ensure more leaks get repaired, and take action on climate change. In particular, I am asking your office to support amendments filed by Senators Eldridge and Creem.    Will Senator ____ work to strengthen this bill?  Thank you for your time.”

Thank you for all that you do,  Sheila Decter

Senate passes Stronger Version Gas Leaks Bill

Update on legislation as noted below:
The State Senate unanimously passed a gas-leak bill increasing regulations for natural-gas companies to plug leaks in their pipelines.  Senate bill creates a leak classification system with three categories.  The most severe leaks would need to be fixed immediately.  Moderate leaks would need to be fixed within a year, and minor leaks would need to be evaluated within the year.  The two versions will now be considered by a conference committee.
Earlier action requested before bill was considered in the Senate
Senator Eldridge is filing these amendments. Please encourage your senator to support them. Please let Erica (ericar.jalsa@gmail.com) know who you called and any response you received.
   The present bill is not comprehensive to our safety and environmental standards; only gas leaks in Class 1 or Class 2 are addressed, there is no mention of Class 3 gas leaks. This needs to be changed.
The version of the gas leaks bill that emerged today in the Senate (S.2073) was weaker and less comprehensive than the environmental community had hoped. The Senate President has allowed senators to file to amendments up until to noon Friday, March 28.
     To ensure the bill is strong, please encourage your senator to support the amendments that Senator Eldridge is filing.
      Here is a sample script for the call. If you’d like, add in why you are passionate about this issue.   “Hello, My name is (your name), and I live in the senator’s district. I am disappointed with the gas leaks bill that came out today, S.7023. I am calling to encourage Senator (your senator’s name) to support the amendments that Senator Eldridge is proposing so that the bill can be stronger and more comprehensive for improving gas leaks.  Thank you.”
       If you want to get more specific, you can say: “Hello, My name is (your name), and I live in the senator’s district. I am disappointed with the gas leaks bill that came out today, S.7023. I am calling to encourage Senator (your senator’s name) to support the amendments that Senator Eldridge is proposing so that the bill can be stronger and more comprehensive for improving gas leaks. Specifically, the bill needs to address repairing all classes of gas leaks (not just class 1 and 2) to be in accordance with the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008. As an environmentalist, I believe these amendments are crucial to include in the passing of this bill. Thank you.”
 A deeper look: What the environmental community is specifically looking for:- Amendments that address the repairing all gas leaks, if they are within 50 feet of a school zone, nursing home, healthcare facility, governmental building or subway/train station;  when road projects are done, and work is already being done to repair some of the gas leaks
   - An amendment to Section 4 of the bill. This section deals with expansion of natural gas line infrastructure (replacing the old with new). This amendment calls for this expansion to be in accordance with the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008.
 Thank you for all that you do,  Sheila Decter

Action Alert: Preventing Gun Violence

To make sure ALL of our Priorities are included in the bill.

 It’s time to call our own representatives again and urge them to talk to the Speaker.  Thank you to those of you who made calls to legislators last week.
We need at least another 25 calls from JALSA members Today

 We are hopeful that 4 of the 5 coalition priorities** will be included in a gun safety bill in the coming weeks. We are also hopeful that the door is not yet closed on our 5th priority: limiting handgun purchases to one handgun a month. A one-handgun-a-month law would prevent traffickers from purchasing large quantities of guns for illegal resale. One handgun a month laws have been successful in other states.  We want to make sure the Speaker hears: 1. how important it is to get this bill out, and 2. how important it is that a limit to one handgun a month be in the bill.

Please call your Representative to make this message clear (tel 617-722-2500). Below are the priorities. Please let Erica (ericar.jalsa@gmail.com) know who you called and any response you received. Stay tuned for more information as the pace picks up. We may need to make more calls as soon as next week.    This is the moment.  And, get ready to make this message even more clear at an important day of action in the coming weeks. Tentative Date:   April 3rd at 10AM at the Statehouse. More info to come.

Thank you all for your hard work and commitment to this issue,

Sheila Decter

**Priorities:
 1. Background checks at every sale, including private sales, gun shows and over the internet
 2. Share records of adjudicated commitments for mental health and substance abuse with the  National Instant Check System 
 3. Expanding the suitability standard to FID cards (long-gun and rifle licenses)
 4. Limiting individual sales to 1 handgun per month
 5. Requiring law enforcement to decipher where a gun came from every time it’s used in a crime