Environmental justice communities in Massachusetts have a higher density of gas leaks, according to new research by Salem State University and HEET

February 28, 2022

In a peer-reviewed paper, Salem State University Professor Marcos Luna and HEET Director Dominic Nicholas examined over 26,000 gas leaks in relation to demographic groups. Their findings show that low-income and communities of color, as well as renters, limited English-speaking households and adults with lower levels of education, are disproportionately exposed to gas leaks and that leak repairs are comparatively slower for these populations.

The paper, “An environmental justice analysis of distribution-level natural gas leaks in Massachusetts, USA,” is published in the journal Energy Policy. Read WBUR's coverage on the paper here.

Massachusetts has some of the oldest natural gas infrastructure in the country, with pipes that leak methane—a potent greenhouse gas. The state, however, has also led the nation in transparency of gas leaks reporting and in prioritizing repair of higher environmental impact leaks. 

HEET has tracked and analyzed the utility-reported locations of gas leaks since 2015 and the utilities’ success in finding and repairing large leaks since 2019. 

This study did not investigate root causes of differential exposure, so further study is needed to determine if differences in exposure to gas leaks are a reflection of historic challenges such as red-lining, of current systemic biases, or both. Additional studies are also needed to determine whether these structural differences impact the health or safety of communities. 

Luna and Nicholas suggest that regulators and gas utilities, who have knowledge of the necessary safety and emissions prioritizations, use an equity analysis to ensure they provide equitable service to environmental justice communities. They also recommend that utilities nationwide be required to report their leak inventories transparently and publicly.

“Detailed and regular reporting of leak inventories by utilities is critical and should be required of all gas utilities nationwide,” said Nicholas.

HEET is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit with a mission to cut carbon emissions now.

For press inquiries, contact Carrie Klein, Communications Coordinator at HEET: carrie.klein@heet.org