At-Large Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman published the following Op-Ed on MassLive and in The Republican on May 17, detailing an update on his continued work to hold the gas company accountable for repairing natural gas leaks in Springfield.
In 2016 I learned for the first time that there were over 500 active natural gas leaks from pipes under the street in the City of Springfield.
These leaks were just a percentage of thousands recorded across the state, and at the time, there was no mandate that many of them be repaired.
Only leaks found inside a contained space, Grade 1 Leaks, were required to be repaired within 24 hours. Leaks close to contained spaces or that met certain other criteria, Grade 2 leaks, were required to be fixed within 12 months. But these other leaks, known as Grade 3 leaks, were left unattended, some for over a decade.
Further investigation and studies by Harvard and Boston University revealed that a small percentage of these leaks, known as “super emitters,” were responsible for vast amount of gas being lost from the system. These super emitters were releasing untold amounts of methane into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than carbon. The cost of this wasted gas was passed onto customers.
It was for that reason that we began working in the City of Springfield to hold the gas company accountable for these leaks. With the support of a coalition of organizations like the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, Arise for Social Justice, Mother’s Out Front, and the statewide watchdog group HEET, we worked to bring the gas company together with local officials and community members, and in 2017 were able to announce a deal to repair these leaks over time, with a concerted focus on the largest leaks first. The announcement was the first of its kind in Massachusetts.
Two construction seasons later, at a recent oversight hearing, Columbia Gas reported that the total number of leaks in Springfield has dropped from 566 to 348. This season another 162 are scheduled for repair. Included in those already repaired were 186 Grade 3 leaks, including the largest super emitters. Without the work of dedicated community advocates, those leaks never would have been repaired, nor would more be scheduled for repair this coming season and into the future.
As a further result of this important work, the statewide watchdog group HEET confirms that of the three largest cities in Massachusetts, Springfield now has the least leaks per mile of infrastructure. This is a clear result of our community’s early efforts to hold the utility responsible and accountable.
Since then, legislation supported by local groups and the Springfield City Council was passed by the state legislature to move towards total elimination of Grade 3 leaks across Massachusetts, bringing more transparency to the reporting and tracking of leaks in the Commonwealth. Locally, gas utilities are collaborating with our Department of Public Works to ensure whenever a road is opened leaks that may exist in the area are addressed proactively, and partnering with independent organizations like HEET to utilize newly invented technology that compare emissions of leaks apples to apples and allow the largest to be prioritized for repair.
While Columbia Gas seems on track to keep their commitment, it is important for municipalities and community members to continue to hold them accountable for repairs to their infrastructure, and for communities across the state to do the same with their utility companies.
As Chairman of the Council’s Environment and Sustainability Committee, I remain in close contact with the utility and watchdog organizations to monitor and ensure continued progress on their original commitment, and am committed to continuing to hold oversight hearings to ensure accountability, and keep the community informed as well.
In all of this, it is important to remember that if it wasn’t for the community stepping up and speaking out the progress and partnership we see today would not have been possible.