The Need to Fix Gas Leaks in the Back Bay

According to the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club, Massachusetts has one of the nation’s oldest natural gas pipeline systems, and it is showing its age. Gas pipes around the Commonwealth have more than 25,000 leaks, losing more than eight billion cubic feet of natural gas into the air every year – and possibly as much as nineteen billion cubic feet.

Natural gas leaks kill trees by attracting bacteria to their roots, are harmful to human health, are an extraordinary potent greenhouse gas, waste a valuable fossil fuel that has been harvested through fracking, and can potentially cause explosions.

In addition, utilities don’t pay for the gas that is wasted through leaks, but pass that cost onto ratepayers by factoring it into the price the pay. Nor are the utilities required to repair any leaks, unless a leak is considered potentially explosive. Leaks never get any better; they only get worse over time.

In 2015, for the first time, utilities in Massachusetts reported on the location of natural gas leaks in their territories. A nonprofit group called the Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) has used those reports to create Google maps of the reported leaks, which you can see by clicking here. Using those maps, you can zoom in on your neighborhood to find out where there are local gas leaks (as reported by the utilities in March 2015).

For example, downtown Boston (which includes Back Bay) was reported to have 246 unrepaired leaks as of February 26, 2015. Click here to see the map of Downtown Boston and then, to the left of the map, check the “Unrepaired Leaks 2014” box to see where those active natural gas leaks are. You can then zoom in on the Back Bay and click on the yellow map-pins to find out the address of each leak and the year it was reported.

For more information about the problem, possible solutions, and how you can help, you can read HEET’s Action Manual for Reducing Gas Leaks in Massachusetts. Importantly, one of HEET’s solutions is for all of us to support state legislation that will help solve the problem. Two such legislative bills are currently pending in the Massachusetts Legislature:

  • A Bill Protecting Consumers (H2870): This bill, if passed, would prohibit utility companies from passing the cost of wasted gas onto consumers, incentivizing them to fix the leaks as quickly and cost effectively as possible.
  • A Bill Requiring Gas Leak Repairs During Road Projects (H2871): This bill, if passed, would require gas companies to check and repair all gas leaks whenever a street is already open for construction. Repairing leaks before repaving is not only cheaper for the utility companies, it also decreases the chance the street will need to get opened up soon afterward for pipeline repairs, reducing future street repaving needs (and costs) for the local municipality and disruption for nearby residents.

We therefore urge you to contact your State Representative and State Senator to express your support for both of these important bills. If you live in the Back Bay, your State Representative is Jay Livingstone ( or Byron Rushing ( and your State Senator is William Brownsberger ( The more voters who speak out in favor of these bills, the better the chance is that they will be enacted into law.

Last month, at the request of both our Commonwealth Avenue Mall Committee and our Green Committee, NABB’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to support this legislation. We hope you will as well. More information can also be found on the Sierra Club’s website. Thank you for your support!