Natural Gas Leaks
Natural gas (aka methane) is pumped to our homes through pipes under the ground.
In NSTAR's territory, 17% of these pipes are over 60 years old and made of cast iron. (And what happens to 60-year-old iron that's stuck in the damp earth?)
These pipes rust and corrode, leaking natural gas first into the soil, and from there into the atmosphere.
These leaks are bad because:
- They are potentially explosive. 12 people were hurt in Dorchester when a house exploded on April 17th. 7 people died in Harlem on March 12th.
- They kill trees by suffocating their roots. The City of Brookline estimates the damage to its city trees at over $1 million. Both Cambridge and Somerville are likely to have as much tree damage as Brookline. When a tree dies from a nearby gas leak, the tax-payers –rather than the utility–pay to remove the tree and plant a new one (which of course dies too). The municipality and nearby residents rarely suspect what is going wrong.
- Natural gas (or methane) is a powerful greenhouse gas 34 times more destructive than C02. The amount of natural gas being wasted through leaks in Cambridge and Somerville alone is equivalent to the annual emissions of over 10,000 passenger cars.
- The utilities pass the cost of this waste onto everyone who pays for gas by factoring the lost gas into the price of the gas delivered. Conservation Law Foundation estimates the cost at $38 million per year in Massachusetts alone.
This summer, we will drive down every street in Cambridge and Somerville with a high-precision methane analyzer.
Post the maps of the leaks so residents and the cities can work to address the issue. (Oct.)
- Pinpoint the very worst leaks and organize local residents to call these leaks into the local utility once a day (so long as they still smell gas in the area). By law, the utility has to arrive at the site of a reported leak within one hour and is fined heavily if the average response time rises over 30 minutes. Even if the utility finds a large leak, it doesn't have to fix it unless the utility believes it's potentially explosive. By calling in the worst leaks once a day, we will make it cheaper for the utility to fix these leaks rather than just keep responding. (Oct. - Nov.)
Create a national website where any community can post a map of their leaks and organize citizens to call those leaks in until they are fixed. There are technical assistance grants offered by the government that can help a community pay for the cost of mapping their leaks. (March, 2015)
- Fix 10 of the worst leaks to save an expected $44,500 per year and the carbon emission equivalent of taking 500 passenger cars off the road for a year.
- Map, label and publicize at least 10 trees being killed by the leaks. The clear visual proof of the damage, along with the estimated cost of the total damage to trees in both cities will help persuade both the residents and the municipalities this problem needs to be fixed.
- Share the map of the leaks with Somerville and Cambridge so the cities can work effectively with the utilities.
- Create a national website that allows local groups to find and fix the worst leaks in their communities.
HEET is an award-winning grassroots nonprofit based in Cambridge, Mass. Since 2008, we've worked to help people reduce their energy bills and use of fossil fuels. We're partnered with Green Cambridge on this campaign and have received assistance on it from Sierra Club and Clean Water Action.
Audrey Schulman, HEET Co-founder, President
Audrey is an energy-efficiency expert, registered thermographer, and an experienced grassroots activist.
Ashka Naik, LEED AP BD+C, HEET Executive DirectorBefore joining HEET, Ashka was the Director of ACUPCC Initiatives at Second Nature and worked at the Harvard University’s Office for Sustainability. She is a LEED Accredited Professional with a specialty in Building Design and Construction.
Lilah Morrissey, HEET Director of Outreach and Special ProgramsLilah is an expert in developing community-based programs and activities. Before joining HEET, Lilah served as the Marketing Director for both the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance and Cambridge Energy Alliance.
Jason Taylor, HEET Energy Efficiency ExpertJason has taught air-sealing at the ABCD WAGE program, Weatherization Bootcamps, Train the Trainer events, SMOC Green Jobs Academy, Mass Green Initiative, and Roxbury Community College. He has personally trained over 150 green jobs students who currently have jobs now.
Together Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips (a renown expert in natural gas leaks) and Bob Ackley (a natural gas expert with 30 years of experience) have kindly donated $30,000 worth of expertise and equipment toward this project.
Thus, we've stripped our costs down to only: