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NatGas Infrastructure Bill on Massachusetts Governor's Desk

A bill in Massachusetts establishing a uniform classification system for natural gas leaks, as well as a priority system for repairs, has been placed on Gov. Deval Patrick's desk after unanimous passage in the state legislature.

The bill, H 4164, establishes a three-tier classification for gas leaks:

  • Grade 1 would be classified as a leak that represents an existing or probable hazard to persons or property, requiring repair as immediately as possible and continuous action until the conditions are 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 probable future hazard, with the  gas companies required to repair the leak or replace the main within 12 months of the leak being classified; 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, with the gas companies required to reevaluate the leak during its next scheduled survey or within 12 months of the last evaluation.

The bill covers intrastate pipelines and gathering lines, not interstate pipelines, which are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

H 4164 would also require gas companies to prioritize repair of gas leaks within school zones -- an area considered within 50 feet of any school property -- and to report annually to the state Department of Public Utilities (DPU) the location of each leak.

Gas companies may file a plan to address aging or leaking gas infrastructure with the DPU, but the plan would need to include any eligible infrastructure composed on non-cathodically protected steel, cast iron and wrought iron. The companies' plans would also need to include a timeline for removing all leak-prone infrastructure, with a target date not to exceed 20 years.

Under the measure, the DPU would also be empowered to promulgate regulations necessary to implement natural gas leak classifications and to oversee and monitor the responses and reporting made by the gas companies.

The bill unanimously passed both chambers of the state legislature, also known as the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It passed the House of Representatives, 147-0, on June 11, and then passed in the Senate the next day, 38-0. It was placed on Patrick's desk last Thursday, and he has until June 29 to sign it.

H 4164 is worded very similarly to another bill, S 2073, which the Senate took up in April (see Daily GPI, April 14), but it was subsequently substituted as new text for a competing House bill, H 3873. The bill that won eventual passage emerged from the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling in early June.

According to reports, Rep. John Keenan (D-Salem), who co-chairs the Joint Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, said Massachusetts has 5,700 miles of natural gas distribution lines that are prone to leaks.

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.

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