Beneath our feet is a vast network of natural gas distribution infrastructure. The aging pipes in Rhode Island and Massachusetts are among some of the oldest in the region and the nation, which means they are also some of the most leak-prone. We’ve known for some time that the methane (CH4) emitted through natural gas pipeline leaks contributes significantly to global warming. This is because methane is about 35 times more potent than carbon dioxide (C02), trapping a lot more heat in the atmosphere. However, a recent study reveals that natural gas distribution systems are leaking far more methane than previously estimated.
This revelation comes at a time when utility executives and several public officials continue to push for new pipelines, paid for by New England electricity ratepayers, to bring more natural gas into the region to burn in power plants. So, when public officials call for more natural gas, are they going to take commensurate counter measures to ensure that we can get on track to reducing emissions as called for in the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) and the Resilient Rhode Island Act (RRA): 80% by 2050?
We know that saving energy costs far less than buying natural gas (or expanding the distribution system) for heating or for power generation. As we discussed in previous blogs, the energy efficiency programs in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have benefits more than three times their costs. Through energy savings, the efficiency programs also reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Obviously, if upgrading a boiler or screwing in an LED-light bulb reduces the burning of fossil fuels, then less carbon dioxide, or C02, is emitted into the atmosphere. But by reducing demand for natural gas, clean energy also avoids the more harmful methane emissions. Efficiency and renewables are integral to achieving the mandates of GWSA and RRA. And fortunately, when New England imports less fossil fuel, we improve our economy.