PITTSFIELD -- A bill before the Legislature would require annual inspection of commercial natural gas lines for leaks and the classification of all reported leaks.
Senate bill 2073 proposes a uniform gas leak classification standard for all natural gas companies. It specifies that companies assign a grade to all reported leaks -- Grade 1, 2 or 3, depending on type -- and it requires annual inspections and reporting on the status of leaks and repairs.
The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy is expected to take up the bill on Thursday.
Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, chairman of the committee, said there are a number of amendments still to be considered, but he believes the bill has a good chance of winning approval this year.
"It is very likely to go to the governor's desk," he said, "and I would expect the governor to sign it."
The bill, a version of which has passed the House, was filed in reaction to the increased interest in natural gas as an energy source in the state, Downing said. "I think it is in reaction to the trend we've seen, of more gas going through our older infrastructure," he said.
There are concerns over both public safety and energy efficiency, he said.
The bill defines a Grade 1 leak as "an existing or probable hazard to persons or property," and requires that repairs be scheduled immediately and that fire and police officials be notified.
Grade 2 leaks are "recognized as nonhazardous to persons or property at the time of detection, but justifies scheduled repair based on probable future hazard." These would have to be repaired within one year from the classification and re-evaluated at least every six months until the problem is eliminated.
Grade 3 leaks are recognized as nonhazardous and can reasonably be expected to remain nonhazardous. They would have to be re-evaluated during the next scheduled survey of leak issues -- or no longer than 12 months.
During any major paving project that might expose a natural gas line infrastructure, the state and community would have to be notified by the gas company.
Gas companies would have to prioritize the repair of gas leaks within a school zone, or within 50 feet of school property.
An annual report of leaks and how they have been addressed will be required.
Downing said that under the bill there also would be a process for a gas company to file a rate change request to recover costs related to line repairs.
To reach Jim Therrien:
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien