NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – Just 4 years ago, Springfield’s downtown was rattled by a natural gas line explosion. A worker checking for a leak accidentally punctured a gas line causing the explosion. Now, 22News has uncovered that there’s hundreds of leaking gas lines right now throughout western Massachusetts.
Some of the records 22News went through, included a 40 page list of all “open” gas leaks along Columbia Gas lines for 2015 they reported to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.
“What a waste! What damage! What danger!” said Marty Nathan, a member of a neighborhood climate-change-activist group. They told 22News they were stunned to find their street in Northampton on this list not once, but twice.
“I was surprised, but understood that this is a very old street, so it’s not surprising in that way,” Missy Wick said. She is another member of that citizen’s group.
Wick’s home is run on all solar power, meaning it does not run on natural gas, but one of the addresses listed by the state as an “open” gas leak is directly in front of her home. She told 22News that discovery was not only ironic but upsetting.
22News dug into what’s really going on here and found each gas leak on this list is graded according to state regulations:
- Grade 1: Is hazardous and is required to be repaired immediately.
- Grade 2: Is listed as “non-hazardous” but could potentially become a hazard. Grade 2 leaks must be fixed within one year
- Grade 3: Leaks are labeled non-hazardous and are not expected to become a hazard, but are supposed to be re-evaluated at least once a year for as long as that leak lasts.
There aren’t any Grade 1 leaks ongoing.
139 leaks in western Mass. listed as Grade 2:
- 52 of those leaks are in Springfield
- 32 in Chicopee
- 10 in Agawam
- 10 in Northampton
We also counted more than 2,500 leaks across the state, Columbia Gas lines, that are at a Grade 3 level; the grade that is not considered dangerous. That total does not include leaks that are ongoing on any other natural gas company’s lines, meaning that number could only be a fraction of the total ongoing leaks in the state.
Captain Mark Galarneau is in charge of Fire Prevention at the Chicopee Fire Department. He said leaks are closely monitored by gas companies because their severity can change over time.
“Depending on what’s causing the leak, it can get worse. It can be deteriorated piping, there’s movement from the winter cold weather, the frost moves pipes and stuff so any leak could potentially become worse,” Captain Galarneau said. He also said leaks that are the least concerning are ones pushing gas out into open air.
Despite the grading system, Marty Nathan and her neighbors argue the Grade 3 leaks, or “non-hazardous” ones are potentially dangerous to people and the environment. She sent a letter to Columbia Gas seeking answers.
Nathan told 22News, “How are they going to fix the leaks? How are they going to stop making ratepayers pay? How are they going to recompense the money people for the money they’ve already paid?”
22News also had questions for the gas company and began requesting an interview with the company 5 weeks ago. After several phone calls and emails back and forth, they ultimately said the president of the company is gathering information about the questions, but wouldn’t be able to meet with us at this point.
Columbia Gas sent 22News a statement:
However, the residents in Northampton said they want more immediate results. “We want the leaks fixed and not just here, in the entire state,” Wick said.
Columbia Gas did send a lengthy response to the neighbors. In it, they said Grade 3 leaks do get fixed if they have become worse over time.
22News also discovered that a proposal to fix more of these leaks now sits in the hands of state lawmakers the proposal would make sure that leaks are fixed while road repair and paving projects are going on in the area of a leak, while that section of road is already dug up.