Wellesley hosts gas leaks public forum

By Rama K. Ramaswamy

A public forum on gas leaks in the town of Wellesley took place on Tuesday, March 21. The Town of Wellesley is getting National Grid to fix each and every gas leak, some of which are 20 years old. Many residents are familiar with the smell of gas in their neighborhoods, but they are not aware of the damaging effects of gas leaks to the public’s health and the environment, as well as the costs to Wellesley residents.

Over the last few weeks, Wellesley Green School and Sustainable Wellesley families have been spotted tagging over 200 gas leaks throughout town. “This was a very visual way of getting the message out about the upcoming Wellesley’s Gas Leaks Public Forum,” said Phyliss Theermann with Sustainable Wellesley.

The forum was held at the Wellesley Free Library and Co-sponsored by Wellesley Board of Selectmen, State Representative Alice Peisch, State Senator, Cynthia Creem, State Senator Richard Ross, Natural Resources Commission, Sustainable Energy Committee, Health Department, and Sustainable Wellesley. Raina McManus and Lise Olney, Chair of the Wellesley Natural Resources Commission, were responsible for organizing the Gas Leaks Forum.

“When 150 people show up to a forum on gas leaks,” said Olney, “you know there’s widespread concern. I’m hoping National Grid will respond with a clear plan to fix the leaks.”

The goal of the Gas Leaks Pubic Forum was to build public understanding and awareness about the leaks, equip residents with expert information, and allow residents to ask questions directly to National Grid representatives.

Featured panelists included Dr. Nathan Phillips, Dept. of Earth & Environment at Boston University, who discussed the environmental impact of gas leaks, Audrey Schulman, Home Energy Efficiency Team, who discussed ways of improving coordination to repair leaks, Wellesley’s own Dr. Regina LaRocque of Mass General Hospital, who shared vital information on the dangers to humans, and Sue Fleck, Vice President of Pipeline Safety for National Grid, who spoke about the company’s plans for fixing the leaks in Wellesley. Town officials such as Selectman Jack Morgan were also on-hand to answer questions.

Highlights of the presentation included the following:
• 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). State Senator Cynthia Creem has also co-sponsored the bill, but was not able to attend the forum. State Senator Richard Ross has not signed on to the bill.

• National Grid representative Sue Fleck indicated that going forward, the company is committed to working with the town to address the leaks and to establish better means of coordinating repairs and pipeline replacement with the town’s repaving schedule.

• The Board of Selectmen identified the need for a future meeting with National Grid to ensure that the main gas pipeline that runs along Route 9 is repaired or replaced before the reconstruction of the road that is scheduled to begin this year.

• Audrey Schulman of HEET discussed her current work with National Grid and other gas companies on a pilot project to identify and repair large volume leaks known as “super emitters” that are responsible for an estimated 50 percent of all methane emissions due to gas leaks in the state. She also spoke about the results of a study done by HEET and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council on best practices for coordination between utility companies and municipalities on leak repair — which showed that millions of dollars could be saved through improved coordination. A report summary is available at fixourpipes.org.

For video coverage by Wellesley Media on the road and tracking gas leaks around town, visit https://youtu.be/jY3YJ8zETpc.

For members of the community looking to volunteer, a sign-up form for tagging leaks can be found at http://tinyurl.com/TaggingGasLeaksInWellesley.
For more information about the presentation, visit the Town of Wellesley-NRC website: http://www.wellesleyma.gov/Pages/WellesleyMA_NRC/Gas%20Leaks.
A map of gas leaks can also be found at: http://www.wellesleyma.gov/Pages/WellesleyMA_NRC/GasLeaks.pdf.

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