SPRINGFIELD – Monday, July 7, 2014 – Governor Deval Patrick hosted a ceremonial bill signing for H. 4164, “An Act Relative to Natural Gas Leaks.” The law aims to ensure public safety, protect the environment, reduce costs and create jobs by reducing potentially hazardous gas leaks in Massachusetts.
“This legislation will ensure public safety, protect the environment and reduce the cost of utilities for the citizens of the Commonwealth,” said Governor Patrick. “I thank the Legislature for their work on this important issue.”
“Reducing gas leaks is good for the Commonwealth’s overall public safety, environment and economy,” said State Senator Benjamin B. Downing, Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee.“Far too much gas is wasted every year, raising the costs of electricity and heating for consumers while harming our communities. This bill takes common sense steps to reduce pollution, address consumer costs, and protect our neighbors.”
The legislation establishes a uniform natural gas leak classification standard for the Commonwealth and requires all Grade 1 leaks, which are the most serious, to be repaired or receive continuous surveillance until the hazard is eliminated. Grade 2 leaks are now required to be repaired within 12 months, while Grade 3 leaks require reevaluation. Gas companies will file an initial plan that includes a timeline for removing all leak-prone infrastructure on an accelerated basis. Every five years, gas companies will provide a summary of its replacement progress to date and a summary of work to be completed during the next five years.
The bill further increases public safety by requiring strong communication between municipalities and gas companies regarding projects exposing gas infrastructure. Gas companies are also required to prioritize any repairs detected within school zones.
The bill also calls for the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to design and offer programs that will increase the availability, affordability and feasibility of natural gas service for new customers at the local level.
Massachusetts has some of the oldest gas infrastructure in the country with some pipeline estimated at more than 150 years old according to a recent study. This study indicated that of the approximately 21,000 miles of gas pipeline, more than one-third was prone to leaks. This leakage is environmentally detrimental, costly to customers, and can be a public safety risk.
“This legislation continues the Patrick Administration’s efforts to not only ensure public safety, but save consumers millions of dollars,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett. “This legislation will also help the Commonwealth meet its aggressive greenhouse gas reduction targets by reducing the amount of gas leaked into the environment.”
The bill also amends DPU’s ability to fine gas companies for violations of gas pipeline safety rules, making it consistent with federal law. Companies can now be fined from $100,000 to $200,000 per violation up to $2 million.
Other highlights of the bill include:
Requiring gas companies, as part of their annual service quality standards report, to report to the DPU the location of each leak, the date the leak was classified and the date of repair; and
Directing the DPU to report to legislative committees on the prevalence of gas leaks in the natural gas system, including the number of leaks and estimates for lost and unaccounted for gas and methane emissions as a result.
The Patrick Administration has set some of the most ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets in the nation. Through the Global Warming Solutions Act, the Commonwealth aims to reduce GHG emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
“This piece of legislation will go a long way in improving public safety and help to ensure gas leak explosions in communities like mine never happen again,” said Senator Barry Finegold. “Consumers can take comfort knowing that potentially dangerous leaks will be prioritized and repaired, and energy costs will be reduced through efficiency and increased access and conversion to natural gas.”
"This law is a big step forward on public safety in nearly every neighborhood in Massachusetts,” said Representative Lori Ehrlich. “As this flammable gas travels under our streets in often archaic pipes, I'm thrilled we are compelling gas companies to track their known leaks in a more transparent and uniform way. History has shown that without oversight most leaks are merely monitored. The stakes are too high to let that continue. Compelled by catastrophic and sometimes fatal explosions throughout the Commonwealth, I have worked for years to raise awareness of the need for action. I applaud my colleagues and many stakeholders outside of the legislature for stepping up and making this bill a reality."
"This new law will enhance public safety, expand gas service, and lead to better coordination between the state, municipalities and utility companies across the Commonwealth," said Representative Mark J. Cusack. "The new grading system for gas leaks and the mandated repair schedule will end the days of band aids being put on band aids and lead to full replacement of pipes ensuring the safety of our residents and businesses."
“I would like to thank Governor Patrick for signing this important piece of legislation,” said Representative John Keenan, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. “This law is an important public safety initiative which acts to both decrease gas leaks in our infrastructure, and to improve our environment by reducing greenhouse emissions through replacement of the most leak-prone pipes in our state. Additionally, the legislation encourages the expansion of natural gas distribution in our Commonwealth, which will help many households and small businesses lower their energy bills by taking advantage of a cleaner, cheaper energy source.”