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Monday, December 31, 2012

CLF Report Shows Natural Gas Leaks Costing Millions

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) released a white paper, Into Thin Air (Accompanying Infographic), that documents the enormous environmental and economic consequences of aging, leaky natural gas pipes around Massachusetts. These leaking gases, known as “fugitive emissions,” amount to a significant source of greenhouse gases, pollution that hinders the state’s efforts to achieve the mandates of the Global Warming Solutions Act.

Meanwhile, gas customers are saddled with paying for all of the gas that is lost into thin air, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars each year.

Every year, millions of tons of powerful global warming causing gases are lost through aging, leaky pipes – and yet there’s no incentive to fix them. Gas companies are allowed to – and do – pass the cost and risk onto Massachusetts customers. To put this in perspective, these losses are larger than the gains made by the state’s nation-leading gas efficiency programs, and the losses are passed on to customers at a cost of $38.8 million annually. The good news is that we can easily tackle this problem, and conserve a valuable resource while reducing customer costs. CLF’s report provides a set of practical solutions for the state and gas companies to do just that.

Despite the risk that aging, leaky pipelines pose to public safety, to the environment, and to ratepayers, current state and federal policies actually provide disincentives for pipeline owners to aggressively find and fix these leaks, unless they pose an immediate threat. In addition, there is no reliable methodology for calculating the actual amount of fugitive emissions. As a consequence, the greenhouse gas emissions from these leaks amount to as much as 4% of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions from all sources – pollution that must be reduced in order to avoid the most significant impacts of climate change.

In addition, reducing leaks while increasing the efficiency of existing natural gas infrastructure could provide a more cost-effective, environmentally beneficial means of meeting energy needs in lieu of investing in more expensive new gas pipelines and power plants. As reflected in CLF’s report, repairing leaky gas pipes offers an opportunity to secure energy benefits that customers already pay for but do not receive.

Natural gas use has seen an unprecedented rise over the last few years, a trend that appears likely to continue. As New England’s grid becomes more dependent on natural gas, reducing losses from that system will increase electricity reliability and play an important role in avoiding the unnecessary expansion of natural gas infrastructure. Massachusetts and the gas companies can and should take swift and direct action to change the state of affairs and bring fugitive emissions under control.

CLF recommends a number of policy options be pursued to increase public safety while cost-effectively and expeditiously reducing greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas distribution pipelines. In the paper, CLF outlines five policy options. The prime candidates include: establishing leak classification and repair timelines; limiting cost recovery for lost and unaccounted for gas; expanding targeted infrastructure replacement programs; changing service quality standards; and enhancing monitoring and reporting requirements. With these policies, Massachusetts can foster the repairs and pipe replacement necessary to eliminate this threat to public safety and the environment.

Key findings:

The report makes a number of key findings, including:
  • Massachusetts already has in place aggressive energy efficiency programs. For example, in 2010, Massachusetts natural gas efficiency programs saved 1,097 million cubic feet (MMcf) of natural gas. But in the same time period, Massachusetts lost more gas through distribution system leaks than the efficiency programs saved.
  • The costs of these leaks – about $38.8 million a year – are passed on to gas customers in Massachusetts.
  • More reliable tools are needed for accurately calculating the amount of fugitive emissions.
  • Current state and federal policies provide disincentives for pipeline owners to aggressively find and fix leaks unless they are considered hazardous.
  • Building new transmission lines and new gas generation promises to be a costly endeavor; by contrast, reducing leaks while increasing the efficiency of existing infrastructure, including gas storage, could provide a more cost-effective, environmentally beneficial means of meeting energy needs.
  • There are a number of policy solutions that can be pursued cost-effectively and expeditiously, solutions that are outlined in CLF’s report.
Additional resources:

Find a copy of the report

Find a blog post on this report

Find accompanying infographic

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that preserve natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. (CLF)

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