The pipeline and natural gas industries are aiming to build new and larger gas infrastructure projects in Massachusetts.
We oppose these expansions for many reasons. Read below to learn more and get involved.
Unfortunately, we use quite a bit of natural gas in Massachusetts today (all "natural" gas is now extracted through fracking). More than half of our electricity is generated from gas-fired electricity plants, and many building and home heating systems rely on it currently as well. We know this does not have to be the case. Our own state's Comprehensive Energy Plan shows that we can protect Massachusetts electricity customers from price volatility, reduce risks of disaster, and reduce air and climate pollution by aggressively converting to electric-source heating systems powered by greater amounts of renewable energy. We can end our reliance on this dirty and dangerous fossil fuel very soon, if we act now.
Pipeline proponents are saying that new gas infrastructure, including pipelines, compressor stations, and metering stations, is necessary to meet increased demand in Massachusetts and keep electricity costs low. This is simply not true. Existing gas pipelines are on average almost half empty. The pipelines are used to capacity only a handful of days a year, during cold winter blasts, and even then, they may not actually be full but simply fully contracted - meaning utilities have paid for capacity but then not used it. There are less expensive and significantly less disruptive ways to meet occasional demand spikes.
If all the proposed new infrastructure projects were to be built, they would increase the pipeline capacity in Massachusetts by 73 percent. Given our local needs and everything we know about the needs of the planet, there is no justification for that increase. The pipelines are being built to take fracked gas to facilities in the US and Canada for export. According to the Congressional Research Service, "a significant rise in U.S. natural gas exports would likely put upwards pressure on domestic prices" - this is the opposite of what the utilities and pipeline companies are telling us.
There have even been industry attempts to force utility ratepayers (homeowners, renters, businesses, institutions, municipalities - all of us who pay utility bills) to finance the construction of new pipelines and compressor and metering stations, shouldering the financial risks of financing while the industry garners any profits. Fortunately in August 2016 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that such a scheme is illegal.
Billions spent on new fossil fossil fuel infrastructure could be spent instead on the renewable energy future that we need to move toward expeditiously. An energy system based on renewable sources will serve us in many ways: It will help stave off the worse impacts of climate change; it will help our MA economy; it will improve the air we all breathe and water we all drink; and it will give us a future free of the price volatility of fossil fuels. Taking dollars away from renewables will lock us into exporting our energy dollars. According to the MA Dept of Energy Resources, of the $22 billion we spend annually on energy in MA, $18 billion leaves the Commonwealth. We need to spend that money here, on energy efficiency, energy conservation, renewables, and fixing the old, leaking pipelines we already have.
In addition to all the above, gas infrastructure is dangerous. They transport a gas that is highly flammable and subject to explosion. The tragic 2018 Merrimack Valley explosions demonstrated that all too well. An entirely avoidable over-pressurization event destroyed dozens of homes, left thousands of families without heat or power as winter approached, and caused the death of an 18-year old man.
Despite this disaster in our own backyard, high-pressure pipelines are still being proposed in high-density residential areas, a dangerous mix. In December 2018 a new gas safety law was introduced to require “all natural gas work that might pose a material risk to the public be reviewed and approved by a certified professional engineer.”
This is the time to move quickly toward a new, renewable energy future, not spend billions on the old way - the volatile, toxic, expensive, monopolistic, fossilized way.
Over 90 Boards of Health across Massachusetts sent letters to Governor Baker with deep concerns over the health impacts of pipelines, urging comprehensive health impact assessments before approvals of any new projects. The number of Boards of Health continues to grow with the help of citizen activists like you. For help contacting your local Board of Health and urging them to join this initiative, click here to email Michele.
Massachusetts has one of the nation’s oldest natural gas infrastructural systems, and it is showing its age. Old cast iron and steel pipes are especially prone to leaks. In December 2018, the Department of Public Utilities released their fourth annual report on gas leaks (they have only been required to do so since the passing of 2014 law). This DPU report provides data for the year 2017, and found:
48% of recorded leaks in 2017 were new leaks
78% of new leaks in 2017 were hazardous (Grade 1 or Grade 2)
16,778 leaks remained at the end of 2017
The cost to repair all remaining leaks is $70 million
When natural gas is burned, it produces carbon dioxide, but the gas itself is primarily methane which is the second-largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide. When gas leaks methane into the atmosphere, the climate impact is even worse because methane captures 84 times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Massachusetts is legally required to reduce climate pollutants by 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Leaking pipelines undermine our efforts to reach these goals.
According to a 2016 study by Boston University, a handful of super-emitters--about 7% of all leaks-- are responsible for half of the leaked gas. Repairing these huge leaks can sharply reduce the state’s methane emissions and save ratepayers real money.
Natural gas (all natural gas is now extracted through fracking) is harmful to vegetation, kills trees, and forms ozone which affects human health and aggravates allergies and asthma.
Replacing old pipe with new reduces operations and maintenance expenses. From a CLF report: "According to the filings of natural gas companies with replacement programs in place, for every mile of leak-prone pipe that they replace, they can reduce repair costs, defined as operations and maintenance expense, by up to $1,761 for bare steel and up to $2,188 for cast iron. Over the course of a year that can add up to $7.5 million in avoided operations and maintenance expenses if that pipeline is replaced with new pipe."
The reported locations of gas leaks have been mapped for many municipalities in Massachusetts by our friends at HEET. See your city or town's gas leak locations here.
Learn More and Get Involved
To learn more and get involved, contact Jess Nahigian.
June 2023 Fossil-Fueled Rates: How Gas Costs are Causing New England’s Electricity Price Spikes, and How Electrification Will Help Protect Customers in the Future
February 2020 Energy Economics 101
July 2019 Equitable transition to renewable energy can create millions of jobs (Letters)
May 2019 Lilly Lombard: Climate crisis solution needs help from Columbia Gas
December 2018 Southampton to Governor: Consider health risks of natural gas
December 2018, Department of Public Utilities 18-GLR-01 Gas Leaks Report
May 2018 Understanding ISO New England’s Operational Fuel Security Analysis (Turns out we don't need more pipelines)
January 2018 More pipelines aren’t the answer
December 2017 PIC Grants Permit to Back Bay Pipeline Extension and Letter to the Boston Sun Editor
June 2017 Physicians for Policy Action: Letter to Governor Charlie Baker
May 2017 Oilprice.com: "3 Reasons natural gas is heading a lot higher"
May 2017 Letter to Thomas Cushing, Permit Chief, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Southeast Regional Office
April 2017 National Sierra Club Fact Sheet: The Health Impacts of Fracking and Natural Gas Production
April 2017 Commonwealth Magazine op-ed: Kill the Access Northeast Pipeline
April 2017 Mass. Boards of Health contact information
April 2017 Mass. Conservation Commission contact information
February 2017 Synapse Report: New England's Shrinking Need for Natural Gas
February 2017 Pennsylvania Chapter Chair Berkshire Eagle op-ed
2016 - Hendrick et al, 2016, Fugitive methane emissions in Boston
June 2016 Sierra Club MA FERC dkt CP16-9 Atlantic Bridge proj 06-01-2016
May 2016 Sierra Club MA FERC dkt PF16-1 Access Northeast proj 05-31-2016
April 2016 Mass. Sierra Club letter regarding Omnibus Energy Bill, 4-22-16
March 2016 Massachusetts Sierra Club Testimony, DPU Hearing, National Grid, 3-10-16
February 2016 Massachusetts Sierra Club Testimony, DPU Hearing, Eversource, 2-25-16
Proposed fracked gas pipelines--slide from ISO-NE
April 2016 Dear Colleague Letter from Reps. Kulik & Jones opposing new pipelines
Health Impacts of Fracked Gas Pipelines by Health Care Without Harm
November 2015 Attorney General Maura Healey study concluding new pipelines are not needed
November 2015 Infographic for AG Healey pipeline study
September 2015 Letter from 5 State Reps to FERC
September 9, 2015 USA Today "Scientists: Replacing old gas pipes reduces leaks"
January 22, 2015 Boston Globe “Leaks in Boston area gas pipes exceed estimates”
2014 - McKain, Phillips, et al, 2014, Harvard study of natural gas leaks in Boston
March 2014 Understanding the Impact of Natural Gas Leaks on Public Safety, the Environment and Your Wallet (CLF)
December 2014 "Methane emissions from natural gas infrastructure and use in the urban region of Boston, Massachusetts"
December 23, 2014 Report on Lost and Unaccounted for Gas (MA Dept. of Public Utilities)
August 2013 America Pays for Gas Leaks (Sen. Ed Markey)
November 2012 Into Thin Air (CLF)