After Merrimack Explosions, Boston Officials Push for Gas Line Repairs

Following the deadly gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley, two Boston city councilors want to call a hearing to review the safety of the city's aging gas lines.

Councilors Matt O'Malley and Ed Flynn will discuss the issue during the council meeting Wednesday, just days after dozens of fires ripped through Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

"What happened in the Merrimack Valley was absolutely chilling," said O'Malley.

While the explosions do not appear to be related to gas leaks, O'Malley said they are of constant concern in the city where decades old pipelines are prone to the problems.

"I think we need to do everything we can to make sure we have as safe a system as humanly possible," said O'Malley. "Pressurization, old infrastructure, all of these things have the recipe for something unimaginable."

In 2016, O'Malley pushed for the council to pass an ordinance to require gas companies to repair leaks in an allotted amount of time. However, National Grid, the city's largest gas provider, successfully fought the rule in court.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for National Grid said the proposal was "well intentioned," but would have conflicted with state and federal regulations.

"The ordinance would have impacted our ability to complete mandatory pipeline safety inspections, replace leak prone pipe, and adhere to statutory timelines for leak repairs. It would have threatened our ability to obtain necessary repair permits, direct us to assign work that conflicts with negotiated union contracts, and could require the company to use tools and services that result in higher costs for Boston customers without improving environmental safety," wrote company spokeswoman, Christine Milligan.

However, critics of the gas company feel more should be done to address leaks.

"I think there are better, safer ways," said Audrey Schulman, president of the Home Energy Efficiency Team.

The non-profit tracks reported leaks and whether they are repaired throughout the city. According to their data from 2017, approximately 1,300 leaks were not fixed.

"It's the second oldest, most leak prone infrastructure in the country and there are some pipes still in use dating back to the 1880s in Boston," said Schulman.

National Grid prioritizes their leak repairs using a classification system that looks for potential safety issues. Under that system, they made 1,414 repairs last year, working in Boston and several other communities.

While O'Malley said he understands it is impossible to fix every problem, he hopes a broader discussion about the issue could better address their concerns.

"We should be prepared both in the event of the emergency and take extra steps to prevent an emergency," said O'Malley.

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