7Investigates: Pipe Problems

BOSTON (WHDH) - The deadly gas disaster two months ago has many people wondering, could there be more pipe problems across Massachusetts?

7News put our state’s natural gas lines under the microscope.

We found hundreds of serious leaks and pipes that need to be replaced across the state.

As investigators continue to search for the exact cause of the gas disaster in Merrimack Valley, the dramatic scenes are a reminder of other threates that may lurk underground.

“Nobody’s really talking about the leaks that are in the rest of the Columbia system,” said gas expert Bob Ackley.

A pipe in poor condition in East Bridgewater.

Active corrosion in Springfield.

A history of multiple leak repairs in Andover.

That’s Columbia Gas describing some of its own natural gas mains in documents the company submitted to the state last year.

In all, the company says it has nearly 700 miles of mains made of relatively higher risk materials. That’s a real cause for concern for one gas safety expert.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Ackley said.

Columbia Gas data also shows those mains are responsible for most of the company’s serious leaks, 1,300 potentially explosive leaks in 2017 alone.

But the issues are not limited to Columbia Gas. Statewide, more than one-quarter of natural gas mains are made of outdated materials that are prone to leaks. That’s nearly 5,500 miles that have to be replaced with a pipe like this, enough to stretch from Boston to Egypt.

“And by leaving them in the ground, the operators are just rolling the dice and hoping that nothing happens,” Ackley said.

Steve Tellier: “Do you think the gas companies in Massachusetts are doing enough to fix this problem?” Ackley: “Absolutely not.”

“It’s definitely concerning,” State Representative Lori Ehrlich said.

A few years ago, Ehrlich spearheaded a new law that led gas companies in Massachusetts to detail their plans for replacing aging, leaking mains.

“We have to make sure that everybody in this state, whether they’re gas customers or not, need to be protected from the possibility of explosions,” Ehrlich said.

But it will likely take decades to replace the oldest lines. Columbia Gas didn’t respond to our questions.

But in state documents, the company says it works to replace the worst mains first and prioritizes leak-prone infrastructure to maintain the safety and reliability of the distribution system.

Since the disaster, Columbia Gas has replaced many miles of leak-prone pipe in the Merrimack Valley. But the company just told the state it will now only complete about half the pipe replacement work it had scheduled for this year statewide… and cut its budget for next year.

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