Columbia Gas Commits to Plugging Methane Gas Leaks

A Grassroots Organizing Success! 

On Thursday, January 26, Springfield Climate Justice Coalition and and Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET-MA) joined Columbia Gas CEO Steve Bryant at the Columbia Gas headquarters in Springfield to celebrate Columbia Gas’ efforts to locate and plug large methane leaks contributing to climate change. Columbia further committed to replace old crumbling pipes throughout its service area preventing further natural gas expulsion into the atmosphere.

It was a major victory on behalf of the environment, and Climate Action NOW, a spearhead member of SCJC and participant in the Northampton neighborhood group 2degrees, helped coordinate the campaign.

Methane, the key component of natural gas, has a greenhouse potency 80 times that of carbon dioxide over the next 20 years, and many leaks have persisted for decades from the disintegrating pipes under New England’s city streets. The gas kills trees, may contribute to lung disease and definitely is a major source of climate change. Further, the lost gas has, over the years, been paid for by natural gas customers.

Studies have shown that there has been much more leakage than the companies in the past have been willing to admit and that 5% of leaks are responsible for 50% of the released methane. In the past leaks Grade 3 leaks that posed no immediate danger to life or property because they were not in or near an enclosed space, were not legally mandated for repair.

For the last three years, gas distributors in Massachusetts have been required by law to report all leaks that they have detected. That information was collated by HEET-MA and was used by Mothers Out Front in Boston and by 2degrees in Northampton and SCJC in Springfield to demand that the problem be remedied. In both Northampton and Springfield, we had rallies and “leak-identification” campaigns.

Other distributors were resistant, but we in the Pioneer Valley found that Columbia Gas, initially defensive in its response, was soon willing to meet with both local groups and with local officials. Plans were created to work with local Departments of Public Works to discover the large leaks and fix them, while proceeding with an accelerated plan to replace all old cast iron and uncoated steel pipes.

Columbia also supported strong Massachusetts legislation to require leak repair and has been negotiating with other distributors to follow suit.

It was a victory for local organizing as well as for the compelling moral argument of combatting climate change for the sake of the biosphere and generations to come. Mr. Bryant balanced short term profits against a living future and made the right choice. We of 2degrees, SCJC, HEETMA and CAN are proud to work with him and the employees of Columbia Gas to stop pipeline methane emissions.