Brookline’s temperatures sizzled above 90 degrees for 24 days this summer. We now regularly see the trailing rain from hurricanes such as Henri and Ida that had rarely reached as far as New England. As scientists warn us in the recent IPCC report, we are on track for much more heating, and fast, if we don’t change course.
A rally on Oct. 16 will call for National Grid to fix the town’s 25 largest gas leaks, which are undermining Brookline’s efforts to reduce its climate impact.
Right now, gas is spewing from aging pipelines near our homes, businesses and schools throughout Massachusetts. Gas leaks contribute to climate change, cause explosions, pollute communities, aggravate asthma, and kill trees.
Our state has some of the oldest gas infrastructure in the country – some Massachusetts’ gas pipes date back to the Civil War. This wasted gas, estimated to be over $11 million per year, is passed on from the utility companies to the ratepayers, i.e. anyone with a gas hookup. If natural gas is burned, it becomes carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. However, if unburned, as it is when leaked, it goes directly into the atmosphere as methane.
Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas over the first 20 years in the atmosphere (2013 IPCC report). Without reducing the amount of leaked gas, we erase all other progress that is being made to reduce greenhouse gases. Raul Fernandez, Brookline Select Board vice chair, notes, “We have many dedicated people in Brookline asking for ways to improve our infrastructure using fossil fuel free technologies. But if we continue to have these large volume leaks, we will be winning one battle, but losing the war.”
Utility companies categorize gas leaks into three types.
- Grade 1 leaks are hazardous and must be repaired immediately. This includes leaks in or near a contained space, such as a building or manhole, where the gas could build up enough to potentially explode.
- Grade 2 leaks are non-hazardous, but could be hazardous in the near future. Per Massachuseetts State law, they must be repaired within a year.
- Grade 3 leaks are non-hazardous and are expected to remain non-hazardous. Grade 3 leaks are required to be repaired or eliminated within 8 years.
- Grade 3 Significant Environmental Impact (SEI) are grade 3 leaks larger than 2000 square feet in rectangular extent, about the size of a tennis court. These are the “large volume leaks” that need urgent attention. Although just 7% of the leaks, they contribute approximately 50% of all leak emissions.
Following passage of a 2016 law, utilities are required to share the locations of the SEIs, or large volume leaks, with the public (information available at HEET.org). Another State law enacted in 2019 requires utilities to repair large volume leaks within two years of their designation dates. National Grid has identified 25 such leaks in our Brookline streets and neighborhoods.
Kathleen Scanlon, of Mothers Out Front says, “We are focusing on Triage and Transition. We want to triage our large volume leaks and get them repaired as soon as possible. But at the same time we must transition away from heating with fossil fuels. It’s no longer in our best interest to fix all the leaks, as that would encourage the utility companies to keep us on gas heat for decades more.”
State Rep. Tommy Vitolo says it well: “It’s like National Grid has a big homework assignment. We don’t want them to procrastinate until the last minute. We want them to create a plan of action, share it with the town, and fix the large volume leaks asap.”
Brookline Mothers Out Front Brookline will be holding an event on Oct. 16 at 10 a.m. in front of the Florida Ruffin Ridley School to call out National Grid to share their plan to fix the 25 large volume leaks and do so with urgency. You can register for this event at bit.ly/FixBigGasLeaks.