The Massachusetts Senate voted unanimously on Thursday in favor of a bill that would force natural gas companies to identify and classify gas leaks, and require them to fix hazardous leaks immediately.
The bill (S 2073) calls for state law to be amended by adding natural gas leak classification standards, and for gas companies to assign a grade to all reported gas leaks:
Grade 1 would be classified as a leak that represents an existing or probable hazard to persons or property, requiring repair and continuous action until the conditions are deemed no longer hazardous;
Grade 2 leaks would be considered non-hazardous to persons and property at the time of detection, but they would justify scheduled repair based on the leak becoming a probable future hazard; and
Grade 3 leaks are recognized as non-hazardous to persons and property at the time of detection and it would be reasonable to assume the leak would remain as such.
S 2073 would also require gas companies to prioritize repair of gas leaks within school zones, and to include each gas leak in its annual service quality standards report to regulators.
The bill would also give the state Department of Public Utilities (DPU) the power to authorize gas companies to design and offer programs that would make gas service feasible for more customers. Another provision calls for the secretary of public safety and security to issue a report on the adequacy of state regulations governing utility transformer vaults within buildings.
S 2073 was passed by a 38-0 vote on Thursday.
"With our aging gas and delivery infrastructure here in the Commonwealth, we know that we need to do something," Sen. Don Humason (R-Westfield) told WWLP-TV. "We have to act and to make sure we address this problem, hopefully, to prevent explosions and gas leaks from happening again."
In November 2012, a pipe owned by Columbia Gas Co. of Massachusetts exploded in Springfield, MA (see Daily GPI, Nov, 27, 2012). The explosion damaged 42 homes and businesses and sent 18 people to the hospital. Human error by a utility employee was cited as the cause of the blast.
Natural gas consumption in Massachusetts averaged 390 Bcf per year between 1997-2012, good for 2%-3% of total U.S. demand in each of those years. Overall, gas consumption in Massachusetts grew at a trend-line rate of 1.1% per year during that time period.