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MAPC, HEET Release Report on Gas Leaks

28 Oct 2016

Report recommends ways to save money, protect local roads, and accelerate pipe replacement

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) today announced the release of a new report, “Fixing Our Pipes: Coordinating Natural Gas Main Replacement between Local Governments & Gas Companies” which identifies low-cost best practices that municipalities and gas companies can implement to accelerate replacement of leak-prone natural gas pipes, better protect the quality of local roads, and avoid hundreds of millions in gas main replacement costs statewide.

The report also suggests a way to identify the biggest gas leaks, helping to get the pipes with these “super-emitting” leaks fixed or replaced first. Get a glimpse of the report’s findings on MAPC’s new interactive gas leaks website, http://fixourpipes.org.

The state’s gas companies plan to replace over 5,000 miles of leak-prone natural gas pipe over the next 20 to 25 years. Accessing the pipes requires digging up municipal streets, an expensive process that leaves a patchy surface and reduces the useful life of the roads. MAPC and HEET interviewed 26 municipalities and three gas companies in the Greater Boston area to assess the effectiveness of the current process and find ways to improve.

“Gas companies recognize that their coordination processes need to evolve, but our report identified important steps municipalities need to take, too,” said Patrick Roche, Energy Coordinator at MAPC. “Encouragingly, we found effective coordination strategies scattered throughout municipalities and gas companies. Through this report, we hope to spread awareness in order to make these best practices more consistent across the region.”

The team also surveyed for gas leaks along 172 miles of roads in 15 municipalities. The surveys found that those cities and towns that already implement multiple best practices identified in the report had a lower rate of leaks per mile on newly paved roads.

 This provides evidence that the best practices for coordination do increase the ability of gas companies to fix leaks and replace pipe before road paving occurs.

 The report’s best practices for both municipalities and gas companies focus on sharing infrastructure plans and utilizing effective communication in order to identify opportunities to synchronize gas main replacement projects with municipal upgrades to water- and sewer- mains, as well as street repaving projects.

“Communities like Melrose and Cambridge have shown the power of simple, regular communication and information sharing,” says Audrey Schulman, President of HEET. “And, we’re particularly excited about programs in the city of Worcester and at Columbia Gas which provide models to share cost savings with the municipality from synchronizing projects”.

When shared, those savings can allow a municipality’s paving dollars to stretch further and for the gas company to replace more leak-prone pipe. If the replacement of all remaining leak-prone pipes could be synchronized with municipal paving or other infrastructure projects, savings could range from $452 to $843 million.

The report was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which provided grants to 22 local government and pipeline safety groups in 2015.

As the regional planning agency for the 101 cities and towns of greater Boston, MAPC leads efforts to promote smart growth and regional collaboration. MAPC’s Clean Energy Department supports a diverse range of municipal and regional strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

For more information about the project or MAPC, contact Patrick Roche at proche@mapc.org or 617-933-0790, and visit www.mapc.org or contact Audrey Schulman at HEET at Audrey.Schulman@heetma.org or 516-900-4338.