Can we use the gas pipes to transport clean hydrogen?

Is there a way to heat our homes without using fossil fuels? One idea is to use hydrogen as a heating source. Hydrogen can be created cleanly using solar power; actually, it’s a way to store solar energy when the sun isn’t shining. And we could use today’s gas distribution pipes to transport the gas.

Is this idea technically feasible? UK engineers asked this question for the British gas system and found that:

  • Hydrogen can be transported safely in low-pressure gas pipes (like Boston’s).
  • However, the capacity of the system could be reduced.
  • New hydrogen meters and sensors would have to be fitted to every building in a hydrogen conversion program and appliances would have to be converted.
  • Converting the gas networks to hydrogen is a lower-cost residential pathway for cutting carbon emissions than those identified previously (for the UK).

Of course, hydrogen is an explosive gas – remember the Hindenberg. We’d really need to fix the pipes!

Pipelines? We don’t need no stinkin’ pipelines.

A study released by Attorney General Maura Healey today says New England is unlikely to face electric reliability issues in the next 15 years and additional energy needs can be met more cheaply and cleanly through energy efficiency and demand response.

“This study demonstrates that we do not need increased gas capacity to meet electric reliability needs, and that electric ratepayers shouldn’t foot the bill for additional pipelines,” said Healey. “This study demonstrates that a much more cost-effective solution is to embrace energy efficiency and demand response programs that protect ratepayers and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The study, conducted by the Analysis Group over the last three months and guided by a Study Advisory Group, found that through 2030 the region’s power system reliability will be maintained during our coldest winter months. The study used extremely conservative assumptions, including applying winter conditions from 2004 (one of the coldest years in two decades).

The study accounted for recent news that Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant is scheduled to shut down no later than June 2019, resulting in the loss of 680 MW of non-GHG emitting power.   Attorney General Healey provided a copy of the study to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as it reviews the Kinder Morgan Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project.


Energy Democracy

This webinar, part of New Economy Week, is really worth watching/listening to. It raises important questions about how the clean energy future connects to a Just Transition to a more democratic and economically equitable society, and what the implications of this are for policy and organizing.

New Economy Week, November 9-13, was organized by the New Economy Coalition. Day by day, they dug into these topics:

What are the strategies and policies to create an economy that guarantees good work and meaningful opportunity for all?

What are the economic tools and strategies that will dismantle systemic racism and move us closer to collective liberation?

How can we advance democracy and self-determination on the issues that impact our lives?

What are the policies, campaigns, and grassroots initiatives that can address the magnitude of the climate crisis while building shared prosperity?

How can we claim access and control over what we need to live full and prosperous lives?

See all the webinars, discussions, and articles at

Pipeline opposition could end tar sands growth

The pipelines exporting tar sands out of Alberta are almost full, according to new analysis released today by Oil Change International. Without major expansion-driving pipelines such as Energy East, Kinder Morgan or Keystone XL, there will be no room for further growth in tar sands extraction and tens of billions of metric tonnes of carbon will be kept in the ground. This would be a significant step towards a safer climate, cleaner water and air, and healthier communities.

The report, entitled, “Lockdown: The End of Growth in the Tar Sands” can be found here:

“The tar sands have run out of room to grow,” says Hannah McKinnon of Oil Change International. “Production is close to peaking, and now it is time for a recognition that tar sands production has no place in a climate safe world.”

All proposed new pipeline routes out of Alberta are facing legal challenges, opposition by local authorities and regulators, and broad-based public opposition.1 All of the major projects have been significantly delayed with some cancellations seemingly imminent. No pipeline has been built since 2010, despite active industry efforts.

To assess the impact of these pipeline constraints, Oil Change International built a new and comprehensive model called the Integrated North American Pipelines model (INAP). It finds:

  • the current system is 89% full; and
  • the industry will run out of transportation capacity as soon as 2017.

Subsequent economic and carbon analysis of the model data finds:

  • further growth in the sector is unlikely to be viable without major pipeline expansion;2
  • transporting tar sands by rail is found to be too expensive to justify major new growth; and
  • the emissions savings of no new growth would be 34.6 gigatons of CO2 equivalent (equivalent to the annual emissions of 227 coal plants over 40 years).

Read the rest of the summary here.

Come celebrate our victories and support BostonCAN!


Join us for drinks and substantial hors d’oeuvres, get a great update on our work, and donate to support BostonCAN.

When: Sunday, November 8 from 4 to 6pm

Where: 65 Burroughs Street in Jamaica Plain, the home of Amelie Ratliff

  • Learn about our campaign to fix gas leaks and stop new natural gas pipelines. (Did you know that gas leaks are Boston’s worst source of greenhouse gases — worse than all the cars and trucks driven in the city, or all the emissions from heating buildings?)
  • Explore gas leaks near your home using an interactive mapping tool.
  • See our street theater piece performed live!
  • Connect with BostonCAN leaders, organizers, and supporters over an amazing spread of food and drink.
  • And pitch in to keep the work flowing.

If you can’t come, you can still donate to our work by sending a check to BostonCAN at PO Box 300984, Boston MA 02130. But please come if you can. We want to see  you!

DPU says: we can make electric customers pay for new pipelines

The question is: is it legal to make electric utilities’ customers pay for new gas pipelines, even though we don’t need them?

The state Department of Public Utilities just said: YES.

In May the DPU started looking investigating whether it had the legal authority to let electric utilities own gas pipelines. There’s good reason to think the DPU doesn’t. Deregulation, enacted in the late 1990s, was supposed to separate distribution companies (like the utilities) from the companies that actually generate electricity. A free market in electricity, said deregulation fans, would bring down cut Massachusetts’s very high electric rates.

Now the DPU is saying: to hell with free markets. It’s fine for companies that distribute electricity to own the fuel sources too. Or, in legalese, “the Department has authority pursuant to G.L. c. 164, § 94A to review and approve contracts for natural gas pipeline capacity filed by electric companies.”

That’s good news for National Grid, which recently took a 20% share in the Access Northeast pipeline. This is one of several proposed pipelines that together would deliver far more fracked gas than the state needs, even according to the industry’s inflated estimates.

Governor Baker is behind all this. His Department of Energy Resources asked the DPU to rule on its legality, and the Baker-dominated DPU obliged.

But nobody expects Baker to stop here. The next step – eagerly expected by the energy industry – is to shift the cost and risk of the new pipelines onto us, the ratepayers. The industry doesn’t want to carry the cost, or the risk. They know the demand isn’t there.

Let the little people pay! It’s welfare capitalism at its worst. And it’s coming from a governor who is supposed to believe in free markets.

For more details see The gas tariff: research and talking points by Emily Kirkland of the Better Future Project.

What now, Pilgrim?

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant is closing. Anti-nukers and neighbors are celebrating, but climate activists and energy wonks are wondering how we’re going to meet Massachusetts’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, since the old nuclear plant supplies most of the state’s carbon-free electricity.

“We’re at an energy crossroads,” our governor declared. “The current rules .. don’t allow us reasonable cost and new supplies to meet our commonwealth’s goals. We have to address cost, carbon, and climate change.” [get exact quote from WBUR show]

There’s a challenge! What are the best ways to get the best cost, carbon, and climate change deal?

“We are,” says the natural gas lobby. “We have a fuel that is cheap, clean, and available very soon. You just have to pay for some new pipelines.” (And don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain who wants to ship gas from those pipelines to Europe.)

Are the fuel fossils right? Or is a cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative available?

Here’s what we think at BostonCAN.


Source     Affordable?       Reliable?      Clean?       When?         

Nuclear Huge cost to build & decommission Until the plant fails or melts down Not if you include radioactive waste Not after 2019
Coal, Oil Being priced out of the market Yes No – climate & health costs Now
Natural Gas Now, but not if we start competing w/ European buyers Yes No – methane leaks and toxic emissions Need to build new pipelines
Wind Price more stable than natural gas…. Intermittent – need storage Yes Now
Solar & installation cost is going down Intermittent – need storage Yes Now
Hydro Low cost Yes Canadian hydro destroys forests, emitting toxins Need to build new transmission lines

No one energy source – wind, solar, tidal power – can fill the regional energy gap Pilgrim’s closure will leave. Plugging our leaky gas distribution pipes won’t save enough gas to fill the gap, though it’ll help. Energy efficiency won’t solve the problem by itself. But taken together, all these clean energy solutions may well cancel the need for new gas supply pipelines.

Demand management is a particularly interesting strategy. According to recent testimony before the state Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, 40% of the state’s electrical generating capacity lies idle 90% of the time. It’s just there for those ten days a year when the demand for electricity peaks – very hot or very cold days.

Is there a better, cheaper way to deal with peak demand? Yes – manage it. Other states do. Their utility companies work with big electric users to cut demand when the system gets overloaded. They reward customers for voluntarily cutting electric use at peak times. That costs a little, but far less than building power plants that lie idle nine days out of ten. And far less that building new pipelines to supply them.

Why don’t the Baker administration and Baker’s DPU pursue these really smart solutions?

Fracked gas: it’s bad for your health, too!

Fracked gas creates “alarming risks” for our health, especially for those living near pipelines and compressor stations, says a new study by Physicians for Social Responsibility. The study – the third edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking – compiles and summarizes hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and other important findings on fracking. EcoWatch’s article on the study is at

A cover letter calls on the governors of NY, PA, and MD “to put on hold and deny any expansion of natural gas transmission and storage projects, until and unless their safety can be demonstrated through comprehensive public health and environmental assessments.” It also calls for moratoria or bans on fracking.

The letter to the governors adds:

“Compressor stations and pipelines are both major sources of air pollutants, including benzene and formaldehyde, that create serious health risks for those living nearby while offering little or no offsetting economic benefits. Compressor stations – used along regular intervals of most pipelines – in particular, are semi-permanent facilities that pollute the air 24 hours a day and expose nearby residents to levels of noise pollution known to induce negative health effects. Moreover, emerging data show that their day-to-day air emissions are highly episodic and create periods of potentially extreme exposures.

“We have particular concerns about the air pollution events created by compressor station “blowdown” events, which are used for maintenance and to control pressure and can last for hours. The intentional or accidental releases of gas through valves create 30- to 60-meter-high gas plumes, causing high levels of contaminant release. Anecdotal accounts associate blowdowns with short term effects such as nosebleeds, burning eyes and throat, skin irritation, and headache. Given the chemicals released, we are deeply concerned about the possible long-term effects of these exposures, including cancer, asthma, heart disease and severe neurological impairments. We note that there exists neither a national nor a state inventory of compressor station accidents. We have yet to accumulate an extensive body of peer-reviewed research on the public health impacts of compressor stations, but our new report includes very troubling documentation of extensive leakage of methane and other contaminants.

“Further, while air pollution from natural gas compressor stations and pipelines threatens the health of New Yorkers directly, methane leaks and losses also contribute significantly to the exacerbation of climate change. Emerging research from Texas and Pennsylvania shows that methane emission rates from compressor stations can significantly exceed those from well pads themselves.”

City Council hearing shines spotlight on gas leaks

Over 100 advocates, including members of the group Mothers Out Front, who were crucial in bringing the issue to public attention, turned out for the special City Council hearing on September 21 covering Boston’s methane leaks, which lasted over four hours. Also present were City Councilors O’Malley, Zakim, Murphy, and Wu, along with senators and representatives Ehrlich, Eldridge, Malia, Livingstone and Coppinger. A video of the hearing can be found at

City Councilor O’Malley opened the hearing, giving multiple mentions to Mothers Out Front and speaking about the impacts of methane leaks, which include increased risk of fires and explosions, global warming, and the potential for suffocation at high concentrations. With 86 times the potency of carbon dioxide, methane’s costs to utility ratepayers, infrastructure, and the environment make it a significant public safety hazard, as well as the source of 10% of Massachusetts’ emission impacts.

Four panels spoke, responding to questions from the Councilors, followed by a public comments period that brought the length of the hearing to over three hours. However, supporters of the bill were dedicated to sticking it out through the length of the hearing: “If we’re here at midnight, I will be here at midnight,” said O’Malley during his opening remarks.

The starting times of each panel, as well as notable takeaways from each panel, follow.

Introductory remarks from O’Malley: 0:00:20

Opening panel: 0:09:50

State senator and representative panel: 0:32:30

National Grid panel: 1:04:00

Panel of representatives from environmental advocacy groups: 1:41:30

Panel on public health impacts of leaks: 2:19:00

Public testimony: 2:44:00

The opening panel featured Austin Blackmon, Carl Spector, and two representatives from the Public Works Department. Important points made include:

  • On city construction projects, utilities are not required to fix leaks whenever streets are opened up.
  • The city has no authority over utility infrastructure, and does not perform inspections.
  • The Department of Public Utilities has no staff resources for tracking gas leaks across time, but it’s possible to ask the DPU for data. The City has asked National Grid to input grade 2 gas leaks (those that don’t represent a current hazard, but could pose a hazard in the future and should be scheduled for repairs) into the City of Boston Utility Coordination Software (COBUCS) database of utility and street repairs.

A panel of state senators and representatives Laurie Erlich, Jay Livingstone, Jamie Eldredge, and Edward Coppenger followed, giving testimony including:

  • One 30-year-old leak has been emitting methane 24/7 for as long as it has existed.
  • Boston’s gas delivery system is the second-oldest in the U.S., and has the highest percentage of cast-iron pipes.
  • Many leaks continue to spring up even after roads are repaved—when utilities clearly have an opportunity to fix the leaks when streets are opened for repair.

One particularly striking fact, given by Ehrlich, is that the amount of money that would be needed to repair the leaks is the same amount that the leaks cost in just a year and a half. This means that rather than spending money in a way that would benefit the environment, public health, utility ratepayers, and ultimately the utilities themselves, gas companies are choosing to let the problem slide and pass the cost along to ratepayers. If this money were spent on fixing the leaks, it could remedy the region’s natural gas shortage—an issue frequently used as justification for the construction of additional gas pipelines.

This fact ties in directly with one frequently pointed out by BCAN members: the construction of the proposed West Roxbury pipeline, which has been justified in terms of its ability to increase the pressure in Boston’s pipes, will subsequently force more gas through the existing holes and potentially cause new ones; in this way, it would actually worsen both the leak crisis and the gas shortage.

Representatives Sue Fleck and Joe Carroll from gas utility National Grid also spoke, bringing a different viewpoint to the conversation with facts including:

  • National Grid repairs 20-25 miles of gas pipes annually.
  • Improvements currently being made include replacing small-diameter pipes with larger ones, sealing the insides of pipes, and using robotic technology for pipe repairs.
  • National Grid fixes leaks that are on newer pipes but doesn’t prioritize fixing those on older pipes that will soon be replaced. This brings into question why leaks exist that are 20-30 years old; Sue Fleck claimed that these leaks are anomalous.
  • While the Department of Public Utilities performs random audits on a daily basis, there are no checks from independent or external parties after leaks are fixed.
  • Technology is not currently available—or not in use by National Grid—to measure exactly how much gas is being lost from a given leak. Rather, National Grid measures the amount of gas in the air around a leak as a way of determining explosion risk.

Sue Fleck disputed the $90 million figure calculated to be the annual cost of the leaks, but offered no alternative figure.

City Council Michelle Wu asked how the utility companies’ behavior would change if they became responsible for paying the cost of gas lost through leaks—a proposal that has been introduced in legislation. Sue Fleck responded that she was unfamiliar with legislation, and declined to answer.

Next was a panel made up of representatives from environmental advocacy groups including Joel Wool from Clean Water, Mike Prokosch from the Boston Climate Action Network, Audrey Shulman from the Home Energy Efficiency Team, and Ed Woll from the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club. Their diverse perspectives brought facts to the table including:

  • Both Texas and Pennsylvania have implemented legislation that limits the amount of the cost of gas leaks that can be passed on to ratepayers. Within two years of Texas putting this legislation into place, the number of leaks was reduced an estimated 45-55%.
  • Letting ratepayers pick up the tab for leaked gas is essentially subsidizing the fossil fuel industry twice, since the industries already receive federal subsidies.
  • Bipartisan support exists for fixing leaks and moving to a greener future as quickly as possible.
  • The Home Energy Efficiency Team were the first to map the leaks and report them to the city. Before this, the city was unaware of the extent and distribution of the leaks.
  • 6% of Level 3 leaks (those not presenting an immediate threat, but which should be scheduled for repairs) have likely existed at a time when the street over them was being repaved, meaning that the utilities did not take advantage of the opportunity to fix the leaks, although it makes sense to fix them when roads are already torn up—doing so minimizes disturbance to traffic and city life, and saves money since the city will already be repaving the street.
  • Every homeowner would save $20-30 per month if leaked gas was not being lost. Overall, this amounts to $5-8 million saved on behalf of all homeowners were the leaks fixed, meaning that fixing the leaks would have a stimulating impact on the economy.
  • Fixing the leaks would reduce government expenses as well as residential expenses—government buildings would use less gas, and fewer firefighting expeditions to put out gas-induced fires would be necessary, meaning that fixing the leaks could indirectly lower taxes.
  • Utilities would have more revenue if gas were not being lost from leaks, since they would be getting full retail price for the gas.
  • If the leaks were fixed, the gas saved could be used to heat additional housing.
  • National Grid makes twice the money investing in new supply pipelines that they would make from fixing their local distribution pipes.
  • National Grid has already sped up their timeline for replacing all leaking pipes from 100 years to 20 due to public pressure.

The third panel, made up of Nathan Phillips from the Boston University Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Dick Clapp from the Boston University School of Public Health, Claire Corcoran of Mothers Out Front, and Sarah Freeman of the Arborway Coalition, spoke about the numerous public health impacts of leaks, giving facts including:

  • Only 10% of leaks account for around 50% of the leaked gas, meaning that targeting just a small number of leaks could have a major impacts.
  • The high-tech equipment needed to detect leaks is readily available.
  • The utility companies’ arguments that newer pipelines are safer don’t necessarily address the real issue at hand, since the risk of third-party hits to pipes is out of the control of utilities.
  • Methane is a precursor to ground-level ozone, making it a major contributor to asthma, which is currently occurring and epidemic levels and disproportionately impacts children, low-income communities, and people of color, making gas leaks a social justice issue as well as environmental threat.
  • The loss of trees due to suffocation from methane cannot be fixed simply by planting more trees, since lost trees alter water cycles and the overall ecosystem. These older trees are correlated with economic and environmental benefits as well as increased mental health and lower electric bills in the summer. Eliminating older and larger trees, and replacing them with smaller saplings, reduces all of these benefits.

A period for public comments followed the panels, beginning at the 2:44:00 point in the video. Particularly notable was the powerful testimony from three students representing the Boston Student Advisory Council, who waited through hours of panels for their opportunity to speak out.

One of the most striking, and encouraging, themes presented by numerous panels was the fact that public pressure is possibly the most effective force for changing the behavior of utility companies. Take the case of Texas, where just two years after legislation was enacted limiting the amount of cost of lost gas could be passed on to ratepayers, gas leaks decreased an estimated 45-55%. That’s a 45-55% decrease in the potent methane choking trees, triggering asthma, causing explosions, warming the earth, and wasting ratepayer and government money. Changing the motives of utility companies works—and that change in motivation comes from the legislative changes that public pressure produces. Public pressure has already sped up the timeline for pipe repairs from 100 years to 20. Continued public advocacy is what’s needed to push through the legislation that will fix the pipes.

BostonCAN in the news!

Check out this FRONT PAGE Globe article on gas leaks, which includes this photo of last year’s gas leak explosion in Dorchester – it blew the house off its foundation and displacedDorchester gas leak explosion 4-2014.2 11 people. WBUR also covered the story, and it went national. Clean Water Action put up a great statement on the article that connects gas leaks to new pipelines and ratepayer subsidies – please spread it around.

Also in the news: BostonCAN’s coordinator Becca Tumposky highlighted climate justice and gas leaks in a live discussion with Kelly Bates on NECN’s Broadside. And if you want to see the full impact of natural gas on our climate, here’s an hour-long video by two experts (Profs. Bob Howarth and Tony Ingraffea) that reviews the latest science, proposed policies, and socio-political discourse on Methane, the Bridge to Nowhere.