Local Government and Politics, News

Ehrlich: State needs to transition off natural gas

BOSTON — State Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) and national climate change advocacy groups, Mothers Out Front and HEET, on the heels of a major gas leak on Beacon Hill, on Monday called for Massachusetts to begin the transition from burning natural gas in homes to renewable energy. At 9:45 a.m. Monday a construction accident cracked an intermediate-pressure gas pipeline in the area of Derne and Temple streets, behind the State House.

The Boston Fire Department arrived and evacuated residents on Temple Street. Residents fled so quickly that many did not have shoes and did not return to their homes for two hours. Firefighters arrived to a potent and pervasive smell of gas throughout the area spanning to the top of Bowdoin Street outside of the State House. The intermediate-pressure gas pipeline, which can carry 22 pounds-of-square inch of pressure, is a newer model made from plastic that breaks more easily than older cast iron or steel pipelines.

Alongside Mothers Out Front, Ehrlich, State Rep. Christina Minicucci (D-North Andover), and State Senator Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), this session filed H.2849 / S.1940, An Act for utility transition to using renewable energy, otherwise known as the FUTURE Act. This bill will make Massachusetts the first state in the nation with a roadmap for natural gas distribution companies to transition to renewable thermal technologies for heating residential, commercial and industrial buildings.

“It makes no sense to keep burning an explosive gas in our homes when it is putting both us and the climate in danger,” said Ehrlich, who has successfully passed multiple gas leak bills over the last decade. “With gas infrastructure as archaic as ours, it is time for Massachusetts to lead the transition to a better, safer way to heat and cool our homes as laid out in the FUTURE Act. If we want a livable planet for our children and ourselves, we must hurry.”

While originally deemed a “bridge fuel” to transition Massachusetts to renewable energy from coal, natural gas, consisting primarily of methane, is the most commonly used fuel for heating interior spaces in Massachusetts. It is highly volatile, notably responsible for the deadly explosions in the Merrimack Valley in September of 2018. Natural gas is not only a public safety hazard, but unburned it is an especially potent greenhouse gas.

A new study authored by researchers from the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) includes Boston as one of six East Coast cities where twice as much gas is being released than previously estimated by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA). Carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas, but methane, which lingers for a shorter period than CO2, has 86 times the impact on our climate thus responsible for rapidly accelerating the global climate crisis. According to Mothers Out Front and HEET, with a clear break in a 1.25” diameter pipe, 13-22 PSI pressure, and a duration of 110 minutes of leaking gas, the large estimate of gas lost is 63,021 cubic feet gas and a low estimate of 37,180 cubic feet gas. This is, according to the EPA, the carbon equivalent of 3.7 tanker trucks of gasoline or 652 barrels of oil leaked into the atmosphere over Beacon Hill Monday.

Gas utilities reported 27,731 gas leaks in Massachusetts in 2017 with 15,829 of those unrepaired at year’s end, all continuing to emit an explosive fuel into neighborhoods across the Commonwealth. According to the Department of Public Utilities’ Report to the Legislature on the Prevalence of Natural Gas Leaks (December 2018), the cost estimate to repair the remaining backlog is approximately $65,975,894. Gas is also responsible for killing countless trees across Massachusetts further impacting air quality, and the volatility of gas is especially dangerous in winter months when evacuating residents are left without heat and accessing safety valves becomes more difficult due to ice and snow.

“It is no surprise that our aging gas infrastructure has ongoing safety and health risks,” said Creem. “We need more protections in place to prevent dangerous gas leaks and protect the public. But we must also act to replace fossil fuel technology with renewable sources. Our FUTURE Act does both.”

“In the wake of the Columbia Gas explosions of Sept 13, it became apparent that natural gas is not as safe as advertised,” said Minicucci (D-North Andover), “It is time for utility companies to put safety over profits by testing lines for leaks (especially in winter) and repairing them quickly, following plans prepared by a certified engineer, and properly funding inspectional services to ensure compliance with all safety standards. We filed the FUTURE Act to demand increased safety standards for existing lines and to encourage investment in alternative, renewable energy sources to move away from our state’s reliance on natural gas.”

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