Pittsfield City Council backs natural gas line-related legislation


PITTSFIELD — The City Council has endorsed proposed legislation to shield natural gas ratepayers from having to pay for gas lost through leaking pipes and to require gas companies to inspect and repair lines when they are exposed during street projects.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol petitioned the council Tuesday to support the two House bills, H-2870 and H-2871, both of which are supported by state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.

Krol said that H-2870 seeks to protect gas ratepayers "from the gas that's being leaked out" of aging or otherwise insecure lines. He said there are both economic and financial reasons for the city — along with other communities around the state — to lobby for the legislation.

There also are environmental concerns, Krol said, referring to damage to vegetation around leaking gas lines, as well as the effect of chemicals or compounds in the gas, such as methane, on the atmosphere.

H-2871, he said, would require a gas company to inspect its lines when there are road construction projects and repair leaks while the road surface is opened. Municipalities sometimes complete street projects only to learn that a utility will soon afterward tear up the street again to work on its lines.

If enacted, the bill would require "a systematic approach to fixing infrastructure," Krol said, adding that it would help ensure gas firms allocate sufficient resources to line maintenance.

The council voted 8 to 2, with council President Melissa Mazzeo and Vice President Christopher Connell opposed and Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully absent, to support the legislation.

Connell said he was in favor of protecting ratepayers from being charged for leaking gas, but said that in fairness he would like to table a vote until a Berkshire Gas Co. representative could offer comment at a future meeting. The council vote against tabling the issue also was 8 to 2.

Contacted Wednesday, Farley-Bouvier said she applauds the approach of supporters of the gas line leak legislation to encourage city and town officials to voice their support. "Legislators will take notice when they hear how important this is to municipalities," she said.

"Gas leaks are a major issue in Massachusetts," she said. "We know we are paying for them, and I think we need to hold utilities accountable to make sure these things get fixed."

She said the nonprofit group HEETma.org, which has been surveying and mapping natural gas leaks, has identified 106 leaks in Pittsfield, the most in Berkshire County.

The gas lines targeted are the local service lines, not main pipelines like the one Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. proposes across sections of upstate New York and Massachusetts.

Berkshire Gas Co. announced in late 2014 a proposed 20-year plan to replace aging cast iron and bare steel gas lines, where more than 80 percent of gas line leakage is said to occur.

Berkshire Gas, which operates in three Western Massachusetts counties, has the lowest percentage of those lines, at 18 percent, a spokesman said. The highest percentage of aging lines in the state was identified in the Boston area, with up to 50 percent.

In late 2014, Berkshire Gas had 750 miles of gas line in the company's service area, with about 127 miles of older cast iron or bare steel line, the spokesman said.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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