Gov. Deval Patrick, during visit to Springfield, signs law aimed at enhancing responses to gas leaks

 

Source: Masslive.com July 07, 2014

By Peter Goonan | pgoonan@repub.com 

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law Monday a bill aimed at providing greater transparency and accountability regarding natural gas leaks.

The law, entitled “An Act Relative to Natural Gas Leaks,” was signed during a ceremony at City Hall.

The signing occurred in Springfield, nearly two years after a downtown gas explosion on Nov. 23, 2012, damaged dozens of buildings, caused millions of dollars in damage and injured 21 people.

According to investigators, the explosion occurred after a utility worker, responding to a report of a gas leak at a Worthington Street strip club, accidentally punctured a gas line that had not been marked correctly.

Under the new law, the most hazardous leaks (Grade 1), have to be repaired immediately, while potentially hazardous leaks (Grade 2) must be scheduled for repair, said state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, who initially filed the bill and attended the signing ceremony. The least hazardous, (Grade 3), must be added to an inventory and monitored, she said.

In addition, gas companies are required to provide leak information upon request to cities and towns.

“A great day is when you save lives,” Ehrlich said. “I have no doubt this bill will save lives in the long-run.”

Thomas Kiley, representing the Northeast Gas Association, said the organization is pleased with the new law. The association represents gas utility companies and interests in the Northeast.

“It allows a very prescriptive mechanism that will allow the local gas distribution companies to accelerate the repair and replacement of leak-prone pipe,” Kiley said.

Massachusetts has some of the oldest gas lines in the nation, with some pipes 150 years old, a fact that adds to the importance of the legislation, Patrick said. It is estimated that more than one-third of the gas lines are prone to leaks, he said.

“We ought to identify where those are, we ought to focus in particular on the places where we know the leaks are prone and identified, and continue to rebuild this infrastructure and make sure that everybody is accountable for that,” Patrick said. “I think that is what this bill is about.”

The law will serve to categorize and speed up repairs of the gas lines to make the lines safer, less costly in the long-run, and less harmful to the environment through gas emissions, Patrick said.

Under the law, the gas companies have to provide a summary of work done the past five years and the coming five years, Patrick said.

“It serves the public good on many levels,” Patrick said.

State Rep. State Sen. James Welch, D-West Springfield, said the law was great collaboration of the gas industry, government and consumers.

State Sen. Benjamin Downing D-Pittsfield, said the law is important for the environment, economy, public safety and public health.

Both the House and Senate unanimously approved the bill last month.

The new law will require the gas companies to repair the most dangerous leaks immediately, and “will go a long way in improving public safety” and in preventing future explosions, said state Sen. Barry Finegold, vice chairman of the Energy Committee, and among legislators attending the signing ceremony.

“It is about public safety,” Finegold. “I believe today we are making the commonwealth a safer place, and in the long run this will save ratepayers money.”

Ehrlich said she initially filed the bill three years ago out of concerns for gas leaks and tragic explosions that had occurred both before and since the filing.

“It’s a very serious problem,” Ehrlich said. “This bill requires that all the gas utility companies in Massachusetts conform to a leak grading system.”

The bill speaks to “public safety, environmental stewardship, and jobs,” Patrick said.

Others attending the signing ceremony included state Reps. Angelo Puppolo, John Keenan, and Paul Mark; state Sens. Donald Humason and James T. Welch; and Mayor Domenic J. Sarno.