Hoping to Prevent a Tragedy, Local and State Legislators are Targeting Leaky and Dangerous Natural Gas Pipeline InfrastructuresApr 22nd, 2011 | By admin | Category: Lead Articles, Natural Gas Leaks
By naturalgaswatch.org staff
State and local legislators in at least two states are looking to natural gas utilities to take care of their aging natural gas infrastructures that are plagued with leaks, spewing volatile methane gas into the atmosphere unchecked, doing serious damage to the environment and posing a major threat to public safety as a result, naturalgaswatch.org has learned.
In Massachusetts, a state legislator has targeted the Commonwealth’s aging natural gas infrastructure with a legislative package that would force natural gas utilities to upgrade their pipelines, increase their safety inspections and make that information more available to the general public.
And in Mississippi, a public safety inspector has found more than 800 leaks in the natural gas system that serves the town of Moss Point – nearly half of which are large enough to constitute an immediate hazard to life or property, according to a recent media report.
Local officials are considering how best to quickly address the problem, according to a story in the Mississippi Press.
“Right now, our natural gas pipeline infrastructure has more than 20,000 known leaks in it,” Massachusetts state Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-8 Marblehead) told naturalgaswatch.org. “That’s putting out somewhere between 8-12 billion cubic feet of unaccounted for natural gas into the atmosphere, and it’s a serious threat not only to our environment, but also our public safety. Usually we only think about these things whenever something burns down or explodes because of a natural gas leak. My goal with this legislation is to prevent more of those fires and explosions from happening.”
Ehrlich has submitted four bills on the subject:
- H3051 – Would create a Natural Gas Leak Classification Standard requiring the natural gas utilities to prioritize leaks for repair, within a maximum time frame of three years.
- H3052 – Would establish “Winter Patrol” protocols for cast iron pipe surveys. Cast iron pipes are particularly susceptible to leakage during the winter when the ground moves due to frost heaves. This bill would require the natural gas utilities to check all their cast iron pipelines for frost heaves during the winter.
- H3053 – Would make it easier for the general public to access information about natural gas pipelines by creating transparency within the state agencies that regulate natural gas pipeline safety and make information that is currently kept within government circles – such as when regulations are suspended or waived – to be made available to the general public via the state’s Department of Public Utilities website.
- H3054 – Would require natural gas utilities to call in an arborist whenever it’s suspected that trees have been damaged by a natural gas leak.
Ehrlich said the last bill really address the cause that caused her to begin looking at the vulnerability of the natural gas infrastructure.
“Natural gas is methane, and methane kills trees and other vegetation,” Ehrlich said. “We were seeing all these dead trees around the state, so I started to look into why this was happening and I was shocked by what I found.”
Ehrlich said Massachusetts has the second-oldest natural gas infrastructure in the nation and that much of it consists of cast-iron pipeline, which is the most vulnerable to age and decay.
“Leaks don’t get better with age,” she said. “They’ve got to be repaired. We’ve got to do a better job. Ideally, we’ll strike a balance between the cost of upgrading the system and keeping rates affordable, but we can’t afford to do nothing.”
Moss Point Mayor Aneice Liddell told the Mississippi Press that the leaks are “a serious threat,” and added that they needed to be fixed as soon as possible because “safety should be our main concern.”
Ehrlich’s bills have not yet been scheduled for hearings.