International Journal Publishes Connecticut Methane Leaks Study
In 2019, Sierra Club Connecticut commissioned researchers to investigate the number of gas leaks objectively found in pipelines in Hartford, New London, Danbury and elsewhere in Connecticut.
The study, An enhanced procedure for urban mobile methane leak detection, was published last month in an international online journal.
The results were shocking but confirmed what we already surmised: gas pipelines leak at approximately five times the rate that energy companies report to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), the leak monitor in the state. The study reveals that gas pipelines in just one Connecticut city alone leak enough methane to power over 200 homes. Connecticut pipelines leak a large volume of methane, which has negative climate, environmental, and human health effects, and the push by the state to build more gas infrastructure and larger interstate pipelines is driven by callous ignorance and cruel greed.
For many years, scholarly journals have reported on the work of scientists which demonstrates that gas pipelines, particularly old ones but also new ones, leak massive volumes of methane gas into the atmosphere (Howarth 2014). Since methane, known commercially as “natural gas”, is 100 times worse than carbon dioxide at causing global heating in the short term, we now know that this leakage makes methane gas a worse choice for the climate than coal or oil. The state of Connecticut has been enlarging fossil gas infrastructure in the state for nearly 20 years, with the effect that our electricity grid is now powered over 50% by fossil gas (and about 40% powered by nuclear energy). There is virtually no renewable power being produced in the state; the amount is so small it doesn’t show up on Energy Information Administration (EIA) graphs. Here in Connecticut, the only “clean energy” that is measured on the charts is the burning of trash which is considered “clean,” although it is highly polluting and health destroying, particularly in children.
A review of recent history shows that the government and regulators in Connecticut have embraced the expansion of methane for power, to the exclusion of cleaner forms of energy, specifically efficiencies, small scale solar, and wind. In 2019, the state finally approved a significant amount of renewable power from offshore wind, but it is a typically large project that Eversource (one half of Connecticut’s gas and electricity monopoly) invested in and one that excludes control or investment by municipalities or local communities.
The state of Connecticut has made the expansion of renewable power nearly impossible by putting strict and overly low caps on solar projects, and by forcing the public to subsidize the expansion of fossil gas infrastructure which is unneeded but profits the energy monopolies. It is difficult for even truly affordable renewable energy to compete with state subsidized gas companies.
In terms of equity and ethics, Connecticut’s preference for fossil gas over renewables has worsened the energy affordability gap. The price of energy in Connecticut is the third highest in the U.S., and low income families in the state pay up to a third of their income in energy costs. Due to environmental injustice, the majority of polluting infrastructure in the state is located in cities such as Hartford and Bridgeport; the residents of both of those cities are 80% people of color. The result is that energy production, which all Connecticut residents benefit from, harms people breathing the most polluted air in places like Bridgeport and Hartford. The same people whose health is most likely to be harmed by energy infrastructure are the most likely to have their power shut off during an economic and health crisis, such as the one we are experiencing right now. Burning fossils and garbage for power is primitive and harmful, and it is astonishing that Connecticut’s leaders keep pushing for more burning of dirty fuels that poisons human’s lives.
Sierra Club Connecticut commissioned the Mobile Methane Study in order to learn and educate others about the real amount of methane that leaks from pipelines. Based on the work of researchers from Massachusetts and California, we suspected that gas pipelines in Connecticut were leaky. The study confirmed what we suspected, and the Connecticut Chapter will educate the public, legislators, and regulators about the scale of the problem in advance of the 2021 legislative session.
Right now in Connecticut, ratepayers pay Eversource and UI for the gas that they leak. That’s right: we pay the energy and gas monopolies for allowing huge volumes of a dangerous, explosive, climate destroying gas to simply float up into the atmosphere. The energy monopolies rely largely on consumer or employee reports of leaks. That means they primarily know about leaks that someone tells them about. Our methane study, that objectively measures leaks using the most up to date science, shows that leaks are far more prevalent than the utilities are reporting.
The time for burning fossils is long past. The era of efficiencies and clean and affordable power FOR ALL is at hand. It is a justice, and a climate, issue.
Martha Klein serves on Sierra Club Connecticut Communications Committee and is a member of the Sierra Club.