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EDF: Make Methane Leak Detection Rules More Widespread

Massachusetts lawmakers last year passed a law requiring natural gas utilities to map and report leaks throughout their distribution systems. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) says the same should be done nationwide.

Studies have shown that leakage is particularly pronounced on distribution systems in the Northeast and elsewhere (see Daily GPISept. 23).

Aside from the mandate in Massachusetts, some utilities are voluntarily reporting leaks from their distribution systems, such as the mapping announced earlier this year involving Google, EDF and Sempra Energy's two California utilities, Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (see Daily GPIMay 15). Pending are regulatory approvals to increase ratepayer funds to expand utility leak detection and mitigation.

"None of these utilities are required by existing state or federal regulations to [map and report leaks], which makes their efforts particularly noteworthy," Simi George, EDF manager of natural gas distribution regulation, wrote on the organization’s website.

"But to improve transparency in utility leak management efforts at scale, it is not enough to rely on the efforts of a few utilities. We need standards that create a level playing field for all players. Massachusetts and California have taken the lead, but more states must follow."

For EDF, which has been running a national campaign to curb methane emissions for several years, the key is creating more transparency among all the utility leak management efforts. "Communities have the right to know about gas leaks from utility pipes that directly affect them," George wrote.

The transparency would provide better measurements of the progress utilities are making in curbing leaks, and that builds greater accountability, according to George.

Since EDF launched its campaign, state regulators (including the California Public Utilities Commission) and industry associations have jump-started programs to improve monitoring, detection and plugging of methane leaks (see Daily GPI, March 20).

George said "most states only require utilities to address leaks that pose a present or future public safety threat." She stresses that this costs utility consumers money in wasted gas and it costs climate change efforts by allow methane emissions to harm the atmosphere.

"EDF is intervening in an ongoing proceeding before the CPUC to ensure the adoption of regulations that capture [a new state law's] emphasis on improving transparency in utilities' leak management efforts."

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