H3873 – An Act relative to natural gas leaks

Senator Brownsberger recently wrote a letter to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means in support of H3873 – An Act relative to natural gas leaks:

March 13, 2014

Senator Stephen M. Brewer, Chair
Senate Committee on Ways and Means
Room 212
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Dear Chairman Brewer,

H3873, “An Act relative to natural gas leaks” was recently reported to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

There is particular concern in Back Bay, where leaks are common and the gas infrastructure is among the oldest in the country.  Many gas lines in Boston use old cast iron pipes which would no longer be installed to transmit gas because they are too prone to leak.  The methane gas emitted from these leaks is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts and can pose a threat to public safety.

H3873 will create a uniform set of reporting and maintenance procedures for gas utilities to address leaks.  Requiring utilities to repair hazardous leaks will benefit public safety, the environment and result in lower costs to the ratepayers of our gas utilities.

I hope the Senate Committee on Ways and Means will take favorable action on H3873.

I appreciate your consideration.


Senator William N. Brownsberger

Second Suffolk and Middlesex

You can view a copy of the original here.

Andrew Bettinelli
Legislative Aide
Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger

6 replies on “H3873 – An Act relative to natural gas leaks”

  1. Thanks Will – after seeing the disasters in New York, New Jersey (just to name the most recent) and considering our aging infrastructure, the gas utilities need to take a more proactive stance in detecting and preventing future disasters.

  2. I believe that natural gas leaks by local pipeline companies are band-aided rather than solved under our current system of rates, regulations and profit maximizing consultants advising the these companies. I think most leaks are treated as repairs by the system, and are therefore expenses that ratepayers have to immediately have to pay to the pipeline company through rates. This encourages the company to treat all leak, or more than they should as repairs to maximize profits. I have witnessed the behavior where the gas company came back 6-7 times to the same corner and repaired a leak. Finally tired to the disruption I called the state and the gas company replaced several sections of pipe and a valve.

    A replacement of a area of pipeline seems to be a considered a capital improvement and the company has to depreciated the “investment” over 3-7 years, and will mean they can not pass on the cost of such improvements to rate payers all at once and will come out of profits and bonuses for management and shareholders in the current year. Hence the Band-aid approach to keeping the system one step ahead of collapse.

    My solution would be to make wasted natural gas through non delivery, another words leaks a systematic factor in rates, I do not think it currently is a direct financial factor in rates, A requirement that the amount of gas lost between delivery point and rate payers on a pipeline system would have to be measured and the amount of gas lost in the pipeline would need to be reduced by between 1/2 a percent and a percent per year, every year until the system reaches a standard deviation above average for the United States on this measure would require pipeline operators have an incentive to fix the pipelines properly and well. Such a solution would allow the pipeline operator time to meet the goal, Set a standard that requires the operator to operate the pipeline system with gas losses less than 2/3ths of US based pipelines. And provides a penalty to the business as usual by tying rates to not loosing gas for all the pocketbook public safety and environmental reasons we really do not want to allow the current system to continue. And the nice thing about such a system is that it does not require a regulator to ensure the companies do the right thing, it requires an audit of records to come up with figures. The company has to do the right thing because they will loose money if they do not.

  3. Dan, thanks for these thoughts — utility rate regulation is one of the most complex areas of state law. Sounds like you have some expertise in it — not sure I can agree or disagree as to your analysis of the incentives. I will, however, pass your thought on to the chair of the Committee on Telecommunications and Energy.

  4. Dan Winter’s ideas sound sensible. It would make sense to encourage the Public Utilities Commission to implement at least some of them — and to encourage the Attorney General’s office, which comments on DPU filings, to push for them. Dan, have you asked Martha Coakley her position on these issues?

    I have read that someone developed a machine to check for gas leaks simply by driving around. It found so many that gas companies refused to use it. Simply forcing systematic replacement of gas pipes would be a sensible step toward reducing methane emissions.

  5. Did you see the article in the Globe about leaks a few days ago. Now we know why a systematic leak reduction program is needed built into the regulation on what these companies are allowed to charge ratepayers. The map in the globe shows that there is a systematic problem.

    I recently, 5 days ago detected a new leak in front of my house in Belmont. The gas company came out and determined it is a small leak in the street. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to repair it, since the technician who inspected the problem classified it as a non urgent leak.

    I have a customer who says his parents house in Marion has a non-urgent leak, for 15 years and on going.

    Basically if Gas Leaks do not cost the Gas pipeline operator revenue, or increase revenue if it is dealt with, it will not be done. All the rules in the world will not get it done.

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