2013 08 02 141ParmenterTree web | Newton MA News and Politics BlogTed asked on the recent tree thread whether National Grid had resolved the gas leaks. I spent yesterday morning with our gas leak-checker Bob Ackley, testing the spots where we want to plant Newton Tree Conservancy trees later this month, so I have a little more information than before. In a word, no. There are leaks we know they’ve fixed, leaks they say they’ve fixed but we know they haven’t, and a whole lot where we really don’t know. When it comes to believing whether National Grid has fixed a leak, my philosophy is not even “Trust but Verify.” It’s just “Verify.”

As background, back in 2011 after Bob’s Natural Gas Leak Tree Survey had found 378 leaks affecting city trees, and the city decided to defer joining the lawsuit for damages, Marc Welch was tasked with ‘working with’ National Grid. It was a slow process. It was very hard to schedule meetings. The right people never seemed to be available at the same times. But Marc and the Fire Department gave National Grid their high priority leaks to fix, and National Grid went about fixing them. Sort of.

The last status report to Marc, before the Legal Department took over dealing with National Grid, shows the high-priority leaks (yellow), leaks they said they’d repaired (green), and ones they couldn’t find (purple). “Same” means they considered multiple addresses one leak.

Unfortunately, I can’t have complete confidence in this report. I know two leaks that were definitely fixed, including the 18-year gas leak, because we did our own testing before planting trees. On the other hand, there is the 140-158 block of Parmenter Road, pictured above. Gas leaks on both sides kept us from planting seven trees there in spring of 2010. That last remaining tree in the picture, with almost no leaves in August, was removed this winter. Hearing that National Grid said they’d fixed the leaks here, we thought it might finally be possible to plant, though it was not a good sign that residents had not seen any repair activity. ParmenterNotes | Newton MA News and Politics BlogBut our testing yesterday found the leaks are still there, with gas concentrations as high as 65% only six inches down. Yet the November 30, 2012 report says National Grid couldn’t find a leak at 121 Parmenter, and fixed the one at 146-158 Parmenter.

Hard to understand how National Grid could think this whole block was okay, when it seems to be crying out for a new main, as was done up the street toward Waltham.

And that’s not all we found yesterday. Two leaks I didn’t expect among 11 Fessenden St planting spots (one being a guy who did a lot of the legwork organizing the group, who has two stumps on his berm where trees used to be, and was really looking forward to new ones), and another at a potential planting spot on Sterling  St.

But some good news regarding a leak at Pine Grove Ave and Crehore in Lower Falls! It was also in Bob Ackley’s 2010 Gas Leak Survey, but, it turns out, was another one that National Grid could not find as of that November 2012 report. Last fall we were looking at replacing a possibly dead linden with no leaves in adjacent Hamilton Park, as part of last November’s Lower Falls planting, but Bob found the Pine Grove leak again (or still). Because at the time it looked like the tree still had live buds for this year, I suggested Nathan Phillips take a look at it for his research on gas leaks and trees, and he brought some of his grad students, and Bob, to try their methodology for measuring how much methane escapes from a leak, which  you can take a look at here:


Less than a month later, National Grid brought small army of equipment and men and replaced a series of joints in the main. The supervisor promised they would come back after any residual gas would have dissipated, and make sure the leaks were fixed. And we checked yesterday and those leaks are gone. Alas, the linden now appears to be dead after all, but at least we can now plant a new one.

I’m hoping when National Grid does their own checking on Parmenter, they send the Pine Grove guy.