Report reveals non-hazardous leaks costing ratepayers money,
adding to greenhouse gas emissions and damaging City trees
SOMERVILLE – A report by a local non-profit on non-hazardous natural gas leaks in Somerville and Cambridge has highlighted the need for the City and utility companies to undertake a
coordinated effort to address the leaks, which while not presenting a safety hazard or explosion risk do cost ratepayers $1.5 million annually in lost gas, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, affect air quality and damage City trees, further costing taxpayers more.
While utilities follow intensive safety guidelines to minimize the chance of potential natural gas explosions usually connected to the buildup of gas from leaks in enclosed spaces, the report by Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) measured outdoor leaks, which are classified as non-hazardous in terms of explosion risk.
The City plans to address the issue detailed in the report Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), a Cambridge non-profit, by requesting updated leak maps every six months that utility companies must now submit to the state Department of Public Utilities, as required by a bill signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in June 2014 to speed the repair of an estimated more than 20,000 non-hazardous natural gas leaks in the Commonwealth. Using that information and through meetings with NStar and National Grid, the City will plan to add non-hazardous gas leaks as one of the criteria used in prioritizing street reconstruction through the City’s Neighborhood Street Reconstruction Program. The City will also test tree pits for methane before planting new trees and ask the utility companies to commit to funding for replacement of trees damaged by non-hazardous methane leaks in the soil.
“I commend HEET for taking the time to map non-hazardous natural gas leaks in our community and draw more attention to this issue, which harms our personal health, the environment and our wallets,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “I’m also grateful that Gov. Patrick signed a law advocated for by Mark McDonald, president of the New England Gas Workers Association, that gives cities and towns access to the same leak information held by that the utility companies so that we may better track their progress in addressing non-hazardous leaks across our city. While utility companies are required by law to immediately address leaks deemed a safety hazard, we must coordinate our efforts to address non-hazardous leaks, and this new legislation and HEET’s report empower us to tackle the issue.”
“Because natural gas is a potent greenhouse gas, Somerville’s natural gas leaks not only waste $100 per year for each household that uses gas, it also contributes significantly to the emissions that accelerate climate change,” said HEET President Audrey Schulman.
HEET hired a natural gas professional to drive down every street in Somerville with a high precision methane analyzer between June 11 and August 13, capturing the parts per million of atmospheric methane and GPS location. Spot checks were performed where non-hazardous natural gas leaks were suspected of suffocating city trees, with a probe placed in the soil to measure methane levels near tree roots. The results in HEET’s Squeaky Leaks report found an average of 5.2 non-hazardous leaks per linear mile of road in Somerville. Using those measurements, HEET estimated that more than $1.5 million of Somerville ratepayers’ money may be wasted each year due to non-hazardous natural gas leaks. Also, an estimated 75 to 125 Somerville city trees have been damaged or killed by methane leaks in the soil.

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