By Dan Murphy
With the problem reportedly costing Boston-area consumers $90 million a year as utilities companies routinely bill them for the expense, a group of 350 concerned mothers, grandmothers and other children’s caretakers statewide are now working to bring the issue of natural-gas leaks to the forefront.
Ania Camargo, who is leading the awareness campaign for Mothers Out Front, said the leaks are now the largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in Boston, with according to a 2103 Boston University study, 3,356 leaks citywide – an average of 3.9 per mile. (The utility companies claim only 1,400 leaks citywide). The problem can be attributed in large part to Boston’s network of underground pipelines, which are made of cast iron that eventually rust and, in some cases, are more than 100 years old.
Methane, a greenhouse gas Camargo described as “carbon on steroids,” accounts for 95 percent of the city’s leaking gas, which besides posing serious health risks to people, has killed trees and caused explosions. Despite the serious risks, around 95 percent of the leaks identified are classified as grade 3, or “non-hazardous,” meaning utility companies have no obligation to repair them in a timely manner. In fact, the average gas leak in Boston is 16 years old, Camargo said.
This lack of accountability will soon change, however, with the Department of Public Utilities now working to establish new criteria for identifying and fixing grade-3 leaks as part of the state’s recently passed omnibus energy-bill. “It’s the first time that the utility companies have had to care for the environment, and that’s a huge victory,” Camargo said.
Less encouraging, though: a recent Boston University study of 100 gas-leaks citywide indicated that 7 percent are “super-emitters,” which account for 50 percent of all emissions. BU is now proposing a partnership with the Cambridge non-profit HEET (Home Energy Efficiency Team) to identify these “real gushers.”
Visit www.mothersoutfront.org for more information on the group, and to find gas leaks near you, go to squeakyleak.org.