Fix Big Gas Leaks

A 2016 Boston University study of 100 gas leaks in Boston found that 7% of gas leaks are gushers, emitting half of all the gas by volume.

Since fixing these large volume leaks would reduce the problem for the least cost and disruption, a 2016 MA law required that these “environmentally significant” leaks must be prioritized for repair.

Several large gas leaks along Route 9 in Brookline, MA.

Unfortunately, as utilities have always been mandated to focus on safety, not volume, they didn’t have a reliable, fast method to identify which of the over 16,000 leaks in the state were gushing out the most gas.

HEET convened an unusual coalition of activists, academics, utilities, innovators, and nonprofits to scientifically prove a fast, reliable method of identifying the “super-emitting” leaks.

The three utilities who agreed to participate in the project (National Grid, Eversource and Columbia Gas) represent 95% of all the gas customers in MA. The gas companies identified leaks they believed to be high volume, shared information, and actively worked with the research team, sending utility trucks out to collect data with our researchers.

Since the gas companies already determined the extent of the leak “footprint” –the gas-saturated surface area– using common utility devices, measuring this footprint was not arduous or expensive.

HEET’s Jason Taylor explaining how to use gas detection equipment.

Together with the utilities, HEET created a Shared Action Plan on how to enact the method.  The plan includes:

  • Data transparency
  • Independently verified results
  • Annual reassessment, allowing for improvements in technology

The end result is a national model for reducing methane emissions from pipes under our streets.

None of the organizations in the coalition could have managed this on their own. The solutions discovered through our collaboration are just the beginning of the impact the coalition can have.

We’ve shown we can work together to solve a big, complex problem. Now we need to expand and accelerate our progress to keep our climate livable.

Organizations Involved in the Study

  • Nonprofits: HEET, Mothers Out Front, Sierra Club of Massachusetts, as well as all the nonprofits in the Gas Leak Allies
  • Government: Metropolitan Area Planning Council
  • Academics: Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips, Lead Researcher Zeyneb Magavi
  • For-profits: Gas Safety Inc., Millibar, MultiSensor Scientific
  • Utilities: Columbia Gas, Eversource, National Grid

Generously funded by Barr Foundation and Putnam Foundation as well as many individual donations.