Fresh Revelations about the Hazards of Gas 

Media outlets across Massachusetts are rolling out their 1-year retrospectives on the tragic, costly and deeply unsettling Merrimack Valley gas disaster. 

Yet the biggest news about unsafe, expensive and mismanaged gas systems isn’t a look back at last year’s disaster. Instead, it’s the revelation that the system isn’t any better than it was back then. When it comes to our energy future, gas is still a risky, destructive and increasingly expensive option. In both economic and environmental terms, it remains a bad investment. (That’s a message you can help deliver to state officials by clicking here).

A compelling, well-documented study “makes over 50 recommendations toward a strategy of triage and transition” in an effort to improve safety in, and reduce dependence on, our gas state’s poorly maintained gas distribution system.  Rolling the Dice, an Assessment of Gas Safety in Massachusetts, chronicles “the multiple problems and hazards inherent in continuing to rely on an explosive gas as an energy source” as well as documenting the long-term incompatibility of fossil fuel use with “the Commonwealth’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically over the coming decades.” Released through the Gas Leaks Allies (an alliance that includes Consumers for Sensible Energy), the study offers ample evidence that the problems underlying Columbia Gas’ massive 2018 accident are still very much with us – not only in the Merrimack Valley, but cross the state.   

But don’t just take the word of the authors of Rolling the Dice:  On September 12th, the state’s Department of Public Utilities sent a letter to Columbia Gas directing the company to inspect and repair hundreds of gas service lines that were closed and abandoned after the accident.  The letter informed Columbia Gas that “While the abandoned services are not active and do not affect customers’ current service lines or heat, the issues identified regarding the two abandoned services concern the Department and indicate violations of Department regulations.” DPU Chairman Matthew W. Nelson told company officials that “If Columbia Gas of Massachusetts fails to carry out any of these orders, it may be assessed penalties up to $1,000,000 per violation.”

So it should come as no surprise that Columbia Gas announced yesterday that it was starting “compliance checks” on 700 abandoned service lines in the Merrimack Valley.

There are three big takeaways from all this:

  1. Gas is as much of a health and safety threat today as it was when Columbia Gas’ Merrimack Valley pipeline network exploded on September 13.,2018.

  2. Instead of building more and bigger pipelines, compressor stations and tank farms (and making ratepayers pick up the tab), Massachusetts’ gas utilities need to do a better and faster job of fixing the thousands of leaks that continue to plague the current system.

  3. It’s past time to start scaling back on gas usage while speeding up the deployment of clean energy facilities. (Fortunately, demand for gas is already declining, so reducing its use over time is no hardship.)