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Report released on natural gas leaks in Greenfield

  • Berkshire Gas service center on Mill Street in Greenfield. Recorder file photo



Recorder Staff
Saturday, October 14, 2017

GREENFIELD — Natural gas is a sought-after fuel for heating and cooking, but as the town’s distribution system ages, some have questions about health and safety, as well as the impact natural gas has on climate change.

On Monday, Greening Greenfield will hold a panel discussion at the John Olver Transit Center at 5:30 p.m. to report on a study from last summer that assessed the number of gas leaks in Greenfield. The program is free and open to the public.

Guest speaker Dr. Marty Nathan, a physician at Baystate Brightwood Health Center in Springfield, will start the discussion with a talk about the health and safety issues of natural gas, including how gas leaks can affect the health of trees. She will also talk about the environmental impact of natural gas, using information drawn from her research as a physician and as a member of the steering committee of Climate Action NOW.

Carol Letson, a member of the non-profit advocacy group Greening Greenfield, will then present the data collected by the last summer’s study, which the group commissioned from Gas Safety USA to map gas leaks in Greenfield at the recommendation of Home Energy Efficiency Team in Boston. At that time, gas companies were not required to list gas line leaks and repairs, but due to a law passed in 2016, natural gas suppliers are now required to publish lists of current gas leaks as well as of gas line repairs each year from 2014 forward.

Greening Greenfield has been able to compare the study it funded to data published by the Berkshire Gas Co., the natural gas supplier in this part of western Mass.

“The Gas Safety USA study in Greenfield found 50 leaks, while Berkshire Gas reported 36, which is comparable to other studies done around the state,” Letson said. “We have talked with Don Ouellette, Greenfield Department of Public Works director, and understand that they are making great progress in having Berkshire Gas repair these leaks. They also have an agreement with Berkshire Gas to fix gas leaks over the next 10 years, which is twice as fast as the state requirement, but it is Greening Greenfield’s hope that we can do better than that.”

Data for those Massachusetts towns that have natural gas lines are posted on the Home Energy Efficiency Team webpage: heetma.org.

Berkshire Gas currently has a moratorium on adding new customers in Greenfield, contending that its supply can’t handle new connections.

“Natural gas has been promoted as the ‘clean energy alternative’ for many years,” Nathan said. “It is true that it is cleaner than coal as far as particulate matter and other air pollutants go, but its global warming potential is huge. Natural gas is composed mostly of methane, which for the first 20 years of its life is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide (as a greenhouse gas). Looked at over 100 years, it is 34 times as strong. So it is imperative that we fix every gas leak as soon as possible. Additionally, by fixing the leaks, Berkshire Gas might be able to lift the moratorium and add customers.”

Greening Greenfield also invited representatives from Berkshire Gas, Greenfield’s DPW, as well as Carole Collins, Greenfield’s Director of Energy and Sustainability, to join the panel. While none of them could attend, Chris Farrell of Berkshire Gas sent a letter with details about what his company is doing, and Don Ouellette of Greenfield DPW sent some comments, both of which will be shared with attendees.

Additionally, Collins expressed her regret that she is unable to attend, and said that she looks forward to continuing to work on Greenfield’s efforts to reduce its energy use and a path toward a fossil fuel free future.

After the panelists speak, there will be ample time for Q&A, comments, and discussion. A two-page document about the study and recommendations will be handed out.