Into Thin Air: Time to Replace and Repair Leaking Natural Gas Pipelines

Shanna Cleveland

Massachusetts Senator Markey is again leading the way at the national level to bring attention to an issue that has long been ignored–methane leaks from natural gas pipelines. A report prepared for Senator Markey was released today that should focus national attention on the need to address aging and leaking natural gas pipelines. The report highlights the safety concerns and quantifies the costs of leaking natural gas pipelines, concluding that over the past decade, Massachusetts ratepayers have paid over $1.5 billion for natural gas that never made it to their homes. Senator Markey’s report also found that these leaks contribute to climate change by releasing methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas into the air.

“No Surprise”

This important information is no surprise to us at CLF and builds upon what we have been saying all along. Last November, CLF released the report,”Into Thin Air,” (available to download for free) that found leaks in Massachusetts are so significant that the gains by efficiency programs put in place by regulators are disappearing into thin air. The report also documents how these leaks, known as “fugitive emissions,” are being borne not by the utilities, or by the regulators, but by consumers. Utilities pass the cost of lost gas onto ratepayers to the tune of $38.8 million a year. Here’s an infographic from that report:


Furthermore, another report by Nathan Phillips of Boston University has been utilized by CLF to show the prevalence of this issue. Nathan’s report  combined Google Earth and research into a compelling visualization of just how prevalent these leaks are here in Boston (below.)


CLF President John Kassel recently noted on the issue, “…the 3,356 separate natural gas leaks under the streets of Boston reminds us that, as we walk or drive down the street, we are often driving through an invisible cloud of natural gas leaking from aging pipes. If you are like me, to accept the avoidable risk of a predictably volatile gas is deeply unsettling.”

What’s Next?

CLF is advocating for five specific policies to accelerate the replacement of aging pipe and ensure that existing pipeline are properly examined and repaired:

1)    Establish Leak Classification and Repair Timelines that provide a uniform system for classifying leaks according to level of hazard and require repair within a specified time;

2)    Limit or End Cost Recovery for Lost and Unaccounted for Gas so that companies have an incentive to identify the causes of lost gas and prevent them;

3)    Expand existing replacement programs and adding performance benchmarks;

4)    Change Service Quality Standards to include requirements for reducing leaks on the system;

5)    Enhance monitoring and reporting requirements to give the public and regulators more information.

Legislation is currently pending in Massachusetts, and over the coming months we’ll continue to work with state legislators to address this issue. We’re very pleased to have Senator Markey in the fight. If you’re interested in joining us or learning more about our natural gas work, please contact me at

Focus Areas

Climate Change




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