Activists mark gas leaks in Easthampton, citing environmental and safety concerns

EASTHAMPTON — A group of activists spent Sunday labeling the sites of reported gas leaks in the city to draw attention to what they consider to be environmental and public safety concerns.

In Massachusetts, gas companies are required to report the sites of gas leaks annually. In 2018, 17 unrepaired leaks were reported in Easthampton.

“They do it at the end of the year,” said Connie Dawson, of Easthampton, who helped organize the event. 

Dawson said Columbia Gas repaired 11 Grade 1 leaks in 2018, leaks that have to be repaired immediately because they represent a safety hazard, according to information the group gleaned from the Home Energy Efficiency Team, a Cambridge-based nonprofit that focuses on energy efficiency. 

On Sunday, each of the 17 reported leaks were labeled with signs, in an event sponsored by Easthampton Climate Action and the Easthampton Democratic Committee.

Dawson expressed concern with the leaks both from a safety perspective and with the methane they leak into the environment. Dawson also said that there may be other leaks.

“It doesn’t include any leaks that may have occurred since then,” she said.

In a statement to the Gazette, Columbia Gas said that the most serious of the leaks identified at the end of 2018 in Easthampton have been repaired, or are in the process of being fixed.

“We are pleased to report that of the 17 leaks in Easthampton identified in the 2018 HEET report, 7 have been closed and 2 are currently being worked on through our infrastructure replacement program,” the company wrote. “The remaining 7 leaks are among the smallest Grade 3 leaks and are continually monitored for assessment if the condition of the leak changes.”

The statement also notes that Columbia Gas worked with other utility companies on a pilot program that monitored methane emissions from Grade 3 leaks.

“The results of that program have improved our ability to identify and prioritize leaks for repair,” the statement reads.

Grade 3 leaks are leaks that are considered non-hazardous and “can be reasonably expected” to remain non-hazardous.

Columbia Gas also worked with environmental groups and local leaders to come up with a Department of Public Utilities regulation for repairing Grade 3 leaks that are large emitters of natural gas, according to the company. 

Dawson and fellow activist Stephen Linsky, of Easthampton, said that there needs to be better reporting on gas leaks in the state. 

“We’re in an electronic age,” Linsky said. “It should be posted immediately.”

Dawson said that the Department of Public Utilities should evaluate the leaks, determine a time frame for their repair, and see if the gas companies have repaired them.  

She also said that she would like to see gas companies focus on repairing their existing infrastructure instead of building new pipelines.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

Author: Going Green

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