Councilor O’Malley’s Gas Leaks Elimination Ordinance Passed by City Council

A city ordinance sponsored by Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley, which is aimed at eliminating natural gas leaks under Boston’s streets, passed the City Council this week by a vote of 12-1.  The measure would improve the management of gas leak repair in Boston while protecting the health of the city’s residents and its trees and open spaces from the detrimental effects of gas leaking from utility pipes.  

“I am thrilled at the passage of the Gas Leaks ordinance,” said Councilor O’Malley, who serves as the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Environment & Sustainability.  “Thanks to the hard work and commitment of a passionate group of environmental allies, Boston now has a better way to address harmful gas leaks which are in virtually every Boston neighborhood.  It’s more important than ever for the city’s residents to work together to reverse the effects of climate change and protect our city, our country and our planet for generations to come.”         

The ordinance was passed at the City Council’s last meeting of the year on Wednesday, December 14.  It is now before Mayor Martin J. Walsh for his approval.

The ordinance will:

  • Improve the management of city infrastructure by coordinating maintenance, repair, upgrades and replacement with gas companies by notifying the gas company that the street is open;

  • Allow the city to withhold permits for non-compliance;

  • Allow utility companies to survey the open area for the presence of natural gas leaks and allow the utilities to repair or replace any aging, leak-prone or natural gas infrastructure in the public way;

  • Minimize costs, traffic disruption and blockage due to street openings;

  • Allow for a real time and objective public monitoring of leaks;

  • Reduce cost of gas to users;

  • Ensure the safety and health of Boston residents, employees and visitors;

  • Give the city the authority to recoup costs from the utilities for the destruction of trees and shrubbery.

Although the estimated number of natural gas leaks varies, Clean Water Action estimates there are close to 4,400 in Boston and at least 20,000 throughout Massachusetts.  

A 2015 Harvard-led study estimated that each year “15 billion cubic feet of natural gas, worth some $90 million escapes the Boston region’s delivery system.”  This cost is passed on to consumers.  That’s enough gas to heat up to 200,000 homes, the study said.

Natural gas is also harmful to the environment and is proven to be more than 80 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide during the first 20 years after it is emitted. Gas leaks have also been shown to kill trees on the city’s streets and sidewalks.

The passage of the ordinance marks the end of a two-year effort by Councilor O’Malley and a dedicated group of environmental advocates.  In early 2015, Councilor O’Malley was approached by a concerned group of residents called Mothers Out Front, who are working to raise awareness of gas leaks and propose potential solutions in partnership with groups including Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club, Conservation Law Foundation, Boston Climate Action Network, and HEET.

In 2015, Councilor O’Malley and District 8 City Councilor Josh Zakim filed an order for a public hearing on gas leaks in Boston.  A hearing and a working session were held by the City Council’s Environment & Parks Committee to examine the issue. Councilors O’Malley and Zakim also sponsored two City Council resolutions in support of state legislation on roadway gas leak repair and protecting customers from paying for unaccounted for gas.  Both were passed unanimously by the City Council.  

In April 2017, Councilor O’Malley filed the gas leaks ordinance and a second public hearing on the issue was held before the City Council’s Government Operations Committee.

Councilor O’Malley has served on the Boston City Council since 2010 and represents the neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury, parts of Roslindale and Roxbury and the back of Mission Hill.