The recent boom in natural gas production has revolutionized America’s energy market, and its low costs and relatively small carbon emissions have brought real benefits to consumers and the environment alike. However, antiquated pipelines across the country have been cutting into these gains. A report by the House Natural Resources Committee prepared at the behest of Senator Ed Markey has shown that leaks from old pipes cost customers $20 billion from 2000 to 2011. And because methane — the main component of the fuel — is a potent greenhouse gas, these leaks can have serious environmental repercussions as well. Now, Markey has filed two bills aimed at solving these problems, and Congress should approve them.
The first part of Markey's proposed legislation would amend pipeline repair policies to focus on sections most prone to leaks — such as those made with bare steel, which is liable to corrode. The second bill would set up joint state-federal grant programs to help pay for repairs to pipelines. Currently, gas companies have little incentive to fix these pipelines because they can pass on the cost of the lost gas to consumers.
The grant programs are modeled on ones created under the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996, which helped protect America's supply of clean drinking water. The bill also requires that states consider legislation similar to that of Texas, which successfully prodded gas companies to replace 55 percent of their leak-prone pipes between 2010 and 2012 by limiting the amount of lost gas that could be charged to ratepayers. Hopefully, this carrot-and-stick approach will get the pipelines repaired quickly — and save more money for consumers than expended by taxpayers.