Phyllis Theermann

gas leaks forumIt was hard to find a seat last Tuesday as Wellesley residents filled the Wakelin Room at the library to hear from gas leaks experts and share concerns about the 193 gas leaks throughout town. If you missed the event, you can watch it online through Wellesley Media here. To see an updated map of leaks in Wellesley, click here.

Meanwhile, here are some highlights of the forum… There are some important reasons to be worried about gas leaks in our town:

– Gas leaks are a safety risk – The Wellesley Fire Department responds to more than 80 calls a year concerning gas odors.
– Gas leaks contribute to global warming – In fact, methane is at least 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
– Gas leaks kill trees – Public shade trees and private trees and shrubs are all affected by methane seeping into the soil and suffocating their roots.
– Gas leaks are expensive – All ratepayers pay for “lost and unaccounted for” gas through our gas bills – estimated to be as much as $60 million worth each year.
– Gas leaks affect our health, resulting in asthma and other respiratory disease.

State Representative Alice Peisch spoke of her strong support for legislation that would prevent gas companies from continuing to charge ratepayers for wasted gas (H.2683/S.1845 An Act relative to protecting consumers of gas and electricity from paying for leaked and unaccounted for gas).

One of the expert panelists, Dr. Nathan Phillips of Boston University spoke about his work mapping gas leaks, including recent research that indicates about 7 percent of gas leaks are “super emitters” and are responsible for 50 percent of gas emissions. Dr. Phillips and others are working on ways to identify these high volume leaks and prioritize them for repair.

Audrey Schulman, president of the Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) surprised the crowd with a slide showing a graphic representation of the leaks along Route 9, with large peaks of methane emissions all along the main gas line that cuts across Wellesley. She also pointed to a recent study conducted by HEET and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council which demonstrated that millions of dollars could be saved by improving coordination between utility companies and local governments on pipeline replacement and repair.

Dr. Regina LaRocque, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a newly elected member of the Wellesley Natural Resources Commission, raised concerns about the health effects of exposure to natural gas, including increased rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases. Much of the natural gas in Massachusetts originates from fracking sites in Pennsylvania, and Dr. LaRocque spoke of the carcinogenic chemicals that are used to extract natural gas as part of the fracking process. These toxic chemicals have been identified in the areas around the fracking sites and gas transfer stations, but little is known about what is in the gas that is leaking throughout Wellesley.

National Grid representative Sue Fleck offered to hold quarterly meetings with residents to report on progress in repairing the leaks. She also committed to improving coordination with the town on scheduling road work and street closings as National Grid works to repair all gas leaks within the next 10 years.

Following the forum, the organizer of the event and chair of the Wellesley Natural Resources Commission (NRC), Lise Olney, said that the NRC would continue to research the connection between gas leaks and the death of public shade trees throughout town. The NRC is exploring a possible independent survey of gas leaks in Wellesley.

The Selectmen offered this statement:
“The Board of Selectmen is grateful to the co-sponsors and participants of the recent forum on Gas Leaks in Wellesley for bringing this critical issue to the forefront, raising public awareness, and elevating our understanding of the problem and its solutions. The Town is working with National Grid to implement an effective, coordinated town wide strategy for the repair of gas leaks and with both National Grid and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to coordinate gas leak repair and road improvement work along Wellesley’s Route 9 corridor. The Selectmen appreciate the importance of on-going public engagement on these issues and plan to hold a follow-up forum in the near future to continue public dialogue and discuss progress with the community.”

whats next gas leaks forumWhat Can Wellesley Residents Do?
– Call National Grid when you smell a leak. The gas company needs to hear from us whenever we smell gas. The number to call is 1-800-233-5325.

– Support bi-partisan action on gas leaks legislation. Wellesley’s State Representative Alice Peisch and State Senator Cynthia Creem are cosponsoring a bill to prevent gas companies from continuing to charge ratepayers for wasted gas – H.2683/S.1845 An Act relative to protecting consumers of gas and electricity from paying for leaked and unaccounted for gas. If you live in Precinct B, F, or G, please consider contacting State Senator Richard Ross to encourage him to support sponsoring as well. – Power your home with renewable energy

– Wellesley residents can enroll in Power to Choose, a program offered by the Wellesley Municipal Light Plant that allows you to sign up for 10, 25, 50, or 100 percent renewable energy for your home for a modest additional cost. Even if the gas leaks are fixed, our continued reliance on natural gas and other fossil fuels is not sustainable and is harming our planet. We can and must make the transition to 100 percent renewable energy. Do so today by clicking here.

– Join us – Sustainable Wellesley’s next action team meeting is Sunday, April 9, 3 to 5 pm, 161 Oakland Street. We’ll be having a debrief on the gas leaks forum and talking about next steps for action.