Lexington residents talk gas leaks with National Grid

May 20th, 2016 | By admin | Category: Natural Gas Leaks

NatGas Consulting

By Caitlyn Kelleher

Posted May. 19, 2016 at 2:19 PM


More than 100 residents gathered May 17 to discuss how to resolve the ongoing issue of natural gas leaks in Lexington and throughout Massachusetts.

The event was a meeting of the Board of Selectmen and was part of state Rep. Jay Kaufman’s “Open House” public policy forum, focusing on the environmental issues of the leaks as well as National Grid’s ongoing efforts to replace the pipelines.

“We have a Class 3 leak in front of my business,” said Alison Shaw, who works on Massachusetts Avenue. “Every time I walk out of my business, I get a gulp of methane.”

Shaw heard there was little she could do except continue to report the issue, because Class 3 leaks are not considered a safety issue but are used to help determine which pipelines will be replaced by National Grid.

The leak near Shaw’s business is one of many identified and mapped leaks in Lexington.

There were 93 unrepaired leaks in Lexington in March 2014 and 112 leaks in March 2015, according to data filed with the state by National Grid. Most of the lines that run through Lexington are high-pressure lines, according to maps presented at the meeting.

“This is a multidimensional problem,” said Nathan Phillips, a professor who has worked on a variety of studies looking at the natural gas leaks in Massachusetts.

John Stavrakas, the vice president of gas assets management for National Grid, said the company will replace 150 miles of pipes this year. There are 11,000 miles of gas pipes in Massachusetts owned by National Grid, of which more than 3,400 miles are considered likely to leak.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” said Stavrakas.

Leaks in Massachusetts are graded by the safety risk they pose, for example if they are likely to explode, but environmental groups would like to add to the ranking the amount of gas leaking to the grading scale. Stavrakas said National Grid is willing to have a conversation with regulators about a new ranking method.

“We think this would require a legislative as well as a regulator change,” said Kaufman. “Yes, we’d support this.”

Lexington residents also suggested creating a system that includes more citizen scientists working to monitor the amount of gas leaking and whether leaks are getting worse.

“It is expensive to do methane right, but I love the citizen scientist approach,” said Phillips. “Let’s talk more about it.”

David Pinsonneault, the director of Lexington Public Works, said the department has increased communication with National Grid and other utilities to alert them to the road projects that are scheduled for upcoming construction cycles.

“We try to coordinate proactively,” Pinsonneault said.

He added that the utility companies are working with them in many cases, and that the DPW has rescheduled road work to coordinate with National Grid’s plans for installing new pipes.

Resident David Kanter urged the legislators to make a change in the regulation process and the process of charging customers so the company can’t keep charging for “lost and unaccounted-for gas.” He believes this will speed up the push to install new pipes.

Kaufman (D-Lexington) said he agreed to a point, but there was going to be a more-complex solution to the method of charging residents.

“I agree with you the incentive system is missing the mark,” Kaufman said.

Outside the meeting

Before the meeting started, about two dozen members of Boston Gas Local 12003 USW stood outside the Cary Memorial Building with signs to raise awareness of National Grid’s environmental record and what they called the company’s continued push to cut benefits for employees and retirees.

Joe Kirylo, the president of the local, said they work in 36 communities, including Boston and Lexington. He wants to draw attention to the issues with National Grid and the business’ ongoing efforts to cut costs such as outsourcing the mapping of the pipelines to India.

“It should be done by Americans,” he said.

Kirylo cited the gas leaks, which are mostly caused by an old pipe systems, as an example of ongoing issues.

“That is the tip of the iceberg of the problems at National Grid,” said Kirylo.

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