Senate gearing up for debate on bill to reduce natural gas leaks

THINKSTOCK
THINKSTOCK

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 27, 2014…. The Senate on Thursday teed up legislation for debate next week that sets up a new classification system and timeline for utility companies to fix potentially dangerous gas leaks in the thousands of miles of pipe across the state.

The bill would create a three-tiered classification system ranging from the most dangerous leaks to those considered non-hazardous to people or property. Gas companies would be required to immediately schedule repairs for the most severe leaks, while the utilities would be given a year to address the more moderate Grade 2 leaks that are deemed not to be an imminent threat, but probable to become a future hazard.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Sen. Stephen Brewer, released a version of the bill (S 2073) on Thursday, and the Senate scheduled a Thursday, April 3 debate. Amendments to the bill are due Friday at noon.

The House unanimously approved a similar gas leaks bill (H 3873) in February.

In addition to creating a uniform leak classification system and aligning civil penalties for pipeline gasoline safety with federal penalties, gas companies would be required to prioritize the repair of gas leaks in school zones and report annually to the Department of Public Utilities on the location, classification and schedule for repairs of all three grades of gas leaks.

The bill also would allow gas companies to seek increases in their rates prior to the completion of major infrastructure replacement projects designed to upgrade “leak-prone” infrastructure before it becomes a problem, according to a summary of the bill.

Rep. Lori Ehrlich, a Marblehead Democrat who has championed the gas leaks legislation in the House, has said that there are 20,000 known leaks of “flammable natural gas” in the state’s network of 21,000 miles of pipe.

Under the proposed bill, gas companies would also be allowed to propose plans to the Department of Public Utilities to increase the availability of natural gas service for new customers.

The Department of Public Utilities would be required to issue a report on gas company compliance with the new laws and regulations and issue written findings and recommendations on the need for further investigation in cases of gas explosions.

The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security would conduct an assessment of the adequacy of safety standards for utility transformer vaults, and the DPU would be authorized to issue procedures for the winter surveillance of cast iron gas pipelines.

[Andy Metzger contributed reporting]

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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