gas leaks

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.

Dear Friends,

As ratepayers, we are subsidizing nearly $90 million per year for unaccounted for gas that escapes through leaks.  Even the most conservative estimates suggest that there are nearly 2,000 gas leaks in Boston (other independent reports peg the number at more than double that figure); and yet there seems to be little action from the gas companies to address this problem.  Gas leaks can last for years, if not decades.  To wit: last year, a gas leak outside of Kenmore Square celebrated it’s 30th birthday.

Gas leaks can be damaging to the environment, cause public health problems, and violate consumer protection. Moreover, the ill-conceived and potentially dangerous proposed West Roxbury lateral pipeline project seems to be based on the premise that we need to provide more gas to more customers.  While Attorney General Maura Healey has correctly debunked the myth promulgated by the gas companies; I would further suggest that fixing the current leaks would allow for a better delivery of service while not increasing infrastructure capacity.

This past April, I was proud to have introduced the Boston Gas Leaks Elimination Ordinance before the City Council.  The ordinance was the result of resolutions passed in 2015 in support of state legislation and a subsequent working group that was empaneled to look at gas leaks in the city.  Through the incredible partnership of several environmental justice groups such as Mothers Out Front, the Boston Climate Action Network, West Roxbury Saves Energy, the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, the Arborway Coalition and others, I believe that we are able to craft a solid and substantive piece of legislation that will: prioritize gas leaks by risk and volume; allow for a real time and objective public monitoring of leaks; improve coordination between utility companies and the city during road work; and establish a six year time frame for fixing any leak.

We will be holding a public hearing to discuss this ordinance next Tuesday, July 12th, at 1pm in the Council chamber (on the 5th floor of Boston City Hall).  If you are interested and available, I would like to invite you to come and testify (please note: if you cannot attend and would like to submit testimony, you may do so by emailing me at matthew.omalley@boston.gov).

It is important to note that there are some good things happening in this realm at the state level. State Representative Lori Ehrlich and State Senator Jamie Eldridge deserve enormous credit for their work in advancing similar state legislation.  Yet, the cause endures and the work goes on.  Just as we should be looking at more renewable energy sources for our future; so too should be fixing the issues that impact our environment, health, and bank account now. 
I hope to see you on July 12th.

All the best,

Matt