Thanks to a new law in Massachusetts, utility companies are now required to provide the location and age of all of their pipeline leaks. As a result of this newly available data, an analysis done by the non-profit Home Energy Efficiency Team shows that there are at least 20,000 pipeline leaks in Massachusetts. While most of these leaks are not considered to pose a major threat, some of them are over 20 years old, including a leak near Fenway Park that is nearly 30 years old.

An natural gas explosion in Harlem demolishes one building and damages adjacent structures (Flickr/Orangeadnan)

These leaks have the potential to be deadly as they can lead to explosions. In March 2014, a leaky gas pipeline and sewage leak caused an explosion in Harlem, NY that killed eight people and injured more than 60 others. A similar explosion in Dorchester, MA injured 12 in August of the same year.

These leaks threaten not only public safety, but the environment as well, since these pipelines leak toxic methane gas that is “over 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide”, contributing to global warming. The gas also displaces soil and oxygen, killing trees and other vegetation.

Leaks also cost the consumer a lot of money and make it harder for gas to be delivered promptly during peak demand hours. According to a congressional report, Massachusetts natural gas customers have paid $1.5 billion for leaked gas over the past decade. The report had a national scope, but made special mention of the fact that Massachusetts has particularly old pipeline networks, leaving them more susceptible to leaks.

Actions have been taken to respond to these issues, with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) taking legislative steps to speed up the process of replacing old pipes. Utility companies have said they are replacing broken pipes as quickly as possible, but there is some doubt that they are even being truthful about the amount of leaks. At any rate, it is difficult to fully understand the problem, given how expansive the network is and how easy it is for leaks to go undetected.


2 Critically Injured; Natural Gas Eyed As Cause Of Dorchester House Explosion – CBS

3,300 gas leaks are found in Boston – Boston Globe

Gas leaks cost consumers $1.5 b, study says – Boston Globe

Markey files bill to plug gas leaks –

Project reveals 20,000 leaks in Mass. gas lines – Boston Globe

Sewer leak caused deadly 2014 Harlem gas blast – Associated Press

Further Reading:

Leaks in Boston area gas pipes exceed estimates – Boston Globe

Methane Leaks From Gas Pipelines Far Exceed Official Estimates, Harvard Study Finds – Inside Climate News

Better Ways to Stop Natural Gas Pipeline Leaks – Energy Institute at HAAS

America Pays for Gas Leaks – House Natural Resources Committee Democratic staff

Gas Explosions Appear Inevitable, Given State of Pipes – Natural Gas Watch

Learn More – Home Energy Efficiency Team