Bill Aims To Seal Natural Gas Leaks

By Sarah Birnbaum

June 14, 2011

A Baltimore city firefighter takes measurements of gas in a manhole in downtown Baltimore in 2006 after two manhole covers blew off due to an underground natural gas leak. (AP)

BOSTON — A Massachusetts lawmaker is raising concerns about potential natural gas explosions. She's calling for new laws regulating the thousands of known gas leaks around the state.

Marblehead Representative Lori Ehrlich says there are 20,000 known gas leaks in Massachusetts, with flammable and toxic gas seeping out of aging iron pipes and into Bay State homes and businesses.

"When you have a gas leak that comes into contact with a spark, sometimes you have a house explode, sometimes you have a fire, sometimes nothing happens. But that’s a public-safety issue,” Ehrlich said.

She says gas companies know about the leaks but aren’t doing anything about them.
“So they know they’re there. They know they’re leaking, but the incentive is not to repair, because the lost gas that escapes into the environment, a significant part of it, is passed onto the rate payers,” Ehrlich said.
Ehrlich wants to force gas companies to fix the leaks within a set time period. Under her bill, so called “grade one” leaks — or the ones most likely to cause an explosion — would need to be fixed immediately. Grade two leaks would need to be fixed within a year, and grade three would need to be fixed within three years.

Gas companies say the new requirements would be too costly and unnecessary. They say they already fix the grade one leaks right away and the other leaks just aren’t dangerous.

Ehrlich’s bill is pending before the legislature’s joint committee on telecommunications, utilities and energy.

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