Weston: Audit to reveal more on gas leaks

WESTON — The town will spend $3,500 to better understand its gas infrastructure, with possibly another $15,000 to $25,000 to be spent in the future to study gas leaks.

Liz Steel, of the Sustainable Weston Action Group, told selectmen last week that the town has an “aging and corroding gas infrastructure,” like many communities throughout the state.

According to Steel, Massachusetts has the second-oldest gas pipelines in the country after Maryland, with “a lot of pipes over 100 years old.”

Older gas pipes in Weston made of corroding cast iron are a “real issue for gas companies,” according to Steel. “They’re trying to replace it as fast as they can, but it’s just too much. Maintenance is being neglected, as in all other infrastructure projects over the last 20 years.”

Weston Town Crier Letter to the Editor: Perform independent gas leak audit (https://weston.wickedlocal.com/news/20181213/weston-letter-perform-independent-gas-leak-audit)

National Grid reported at the end of 2017 that there were more than 140 gas leaks in town.

During the last year, Steel said some of the leaks have been fixed, but Department of Public Works Director Tom Cullen noted “other areas have maybe gotten worse.”

Steel said the $3,500 study will give the town a more accurate picture of this problem. When Acton town officials has a similar audit performed, they identified 100 percent more gas leaks in that town than originally estimated.

The audit is designed to provide a better understanding of the different classifications of Weston’s gas leaks.

Gas leaks in “grade 3” have existed for a number of years and gas companies are not required to repair them, but must inspect them every year to make sure they have not become more hazardous.

“But they don’t measure them, so they don’t know the size and scale of them,” said Steel. “I think that’s one of the things the audit will do. We’ll actually get a clear identification on not only where the leaks are, but also the size of the leaks.”

Any gas leak more than 2,000 square feet is deemed environmentally significant and must be fixed within a year, according to state law.

Thousands of natural gas leaks in state go unrepaired

Finally, Steel said the audit will help the town more wisely invest its new “green infrastructure” of trees in parts of town where they won’t be damaged by known gas leaks.

“Getting an audit will not assure us that all the leaks will be addressed on day one,” Steel said. “National Grid has a prioritization on these things … But doing something like this gives the town the evidence we need to help shape some of our priorities.”

What do gas leaks mean for local trees?

Cullen said Fire Chief David Soar has received complaints about the odor of gas leaks in town.

According to Steel, methane is six times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and has been known to exacerbate respiratory issues for people, especially children.

Steel said more impetus to tackle this problem has occurred after the gas explosions in Lawrence and North Andover.

“In the current legislative session, there are a couple bills going around regarding (Department of Public Utilities) oversight and gas leaks specifically,” Steel said.

Gas explosions spotlight pipeline work in Massachusetts

Selectman Doug Gillespie sees the value of doing the study, but said he is unsure whether it will speed up the progress by National Grid.

“That’s what’s discouraging,” he said, “is you do the study and National Grid is not going to pick it up and say, ‘Great, now we’ve got a blueprint, we’re going to go fix stuff.’ Nothing may happen.”

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