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My Turn: Keeping gas companies in check

  • Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association President Carol Letson and Executive Director Timothy Neumann look over models of its former town hall building, which it hopes to renovate. RECORDER STAFF/Richie Davis



Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Greenfield benefits from having natural gas service in our community and customers enjoy that service. But with that benefit, we, the customers, have the responsibility to keep ourselves informed about the possible effects of enjoying that service. The natural gas supplier also bears responsibilities to report to the state and to its customers how they are addressing the health, safety and environmental issues, which are described here.

Several Greenfield residents started asking questions two years ago and we attended a presentation made by Audrey Schulman of Home Energy Efficiency Team. She reported the astounding number of gas leaks identified in Cambridge, Somerville and other eastern cities that pose heath, safety and environmental concerns. We brought those concerns back to Greening Greenfield, a group of residents interested in sustainability, including energy, the environment and the responsible use of natural resources, among other things. Greening Greenfield agreed to take on the project and hired Bob Ackley of Gas Safety, U.S.A., to do an independent study of our natural gas lines.

The data collected by Ackley in August of 2016 along Greenfield’s streets illustrated how widespread the leaks occur, even with Berkshire Gas’s steady repair schedule for their gas distribution lines. That same data was mapped, using Google Earth, and was displayed at the public event held Oct. 16 at the John Olver Transit Center, where the report generated a lot of interest.

Thankfully, state regulations now require all natural gas suppliers to post the locations of all detected gas leaks to the state Department of Public Utilities. Because this data is now public, we all can see the annual reports of current and repaired gas leaks at: bit.ly/2rAU4T3.

At the public discussion, Dr. Marty Nathan, a physician at Baystate Brightwood Health Center in Springfield, spoke about the side effects of methane, the largest component of natural gas, which contributes to greenhouse gases in the air and poses other health and safety challenges including:

· Methane emissions affect those who suffer with asthma and other respiratory problems.

· Escaped methane in the atmosphere is a more powerful climate change emission than carbon dioxide. The international scientific consensus says methane is 84 times more powerful than CO2 for the first 20 years after its release into the atmosphere. (IPCC report, September 2013)

· Methane in the ground, from leaking pipes, will cause the death of trees in that area. Methane is easily identified with the proper equipment. The Greenfield Tree Committee is considering the best way to plan the restoration of street trees in our neighborhoods.

· Natural gas suppliers, such as Berkshire Gas Company, have not had any incentive to fix all of the leaks because customers pay for all the gas they distribute, which includes the cost of “lost gas” that is leaking out of the supply lines in our community.

A number of bills currently before our state Legislature address natural gas distribution problems. Be aware, that most of those bills have been motivated by those who are fighting new gas pipelines. There will be a hearing on those bills in Boston on Thursday at 10 a.m. That public discussion will attract a great deal of interest because towns across the commonwealth are suffering with similar problems with the aging of their distribution systems. Citizens who attend that discussion will find out about the common health and safety and environmental problems we share across the state. You can also send comments about these bills to your state representatives and to Rep. Golden and Sen. Barrett, the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.

Dr. Nathan also reported on the good news that the natural gas supplier for Hampden and Hampshire counties, Columbia Gas, has recently agreed to fix all level 3 leaks (classified as not dangerous), in addition to the more dangerous level 1 and 2 leaks in their system. Current legislation does not require our gas suppliers to assess and fix level 3 gas leaks. It is important for residents of Greenfield to work with our supplier, Berkshire Gas, to encourage them to do the same for Franklin County residents for our health and safety, to reduce our gas costs and to protect our planet.

Finally, a letter from Chris Farrell of Berkshire Gas was read, which outlined what Berkshire Gas is doing and that they will have more information on their plans next February.

Greening Greenfield invites anyone who would like to work toward the goal of fixing our gas leaks to sign up through our webpage at: http://greeninggreenfield.org/join-us.

Additional information on Greenfield’s Public Discussion on Oct. 16 is available at Greening Greenfield’s website, under News & Voices: http://greeninggreenfield.org/

Carol Letson is a member of
Greening Greenfield.