The Boston City Council voted to coordinate better with utilities on infrastructure projects with the goal of getting rid of natural gas leaks in the city.
Eliminating gas leaks requires opening up and repairing city roads, which is best done with other underground and street-level infrastructure work, the council acknowledged in an ordinance passed Dec. 14.
The council said it would make a habit of letting gas companies know when the city or another entity plans on digging up public ground and "invite the gas company to repair or replace any aging, leak-prone or leaking natural gas infrastructure that is located on the public way."
Gas utilities would have to do their survey and replacement work "within a reasonable period of time to be determined by the city."
The council gave all local gas companies six months to file detailed information about gas leaks and pipe replacement plans. Under the ordinance, companies would need to update that data at least annually. Utilities would also be required to pay to replace or restore trees and shrubs, the council said.
National Grid USA, one of the largest gas utilities in the area, said it supports the council's intent but has some concerns about the approach.
"We are currently working through the challenge of how to implement this ordinance, given it runs counter to existing state regulations," the National Grid plc subsidiary said in a Dec. 16 email. "Repairing and replacing gas infrastructure is everyone's objective; however, the city's ordinance would lead to the inconsistent application of procedures to address this goal."
The council noted in its meeting agenda that the ordinance had been revised in response to utility concerns, de-emphasizing the leak elimination timeline and focusing on coordinating infrastructure repair. The ordinance previously said the council wanted to eliminate all gas leaks within six years.
The Sierra Club welcomed the Boston City Council action and recommended other municipalities do the same.
"Such ordinances enacted by cities and towns throughout the state can save tens of millions of dollars, cut more climate damaging emissions and reduce the need for more natural gas pipelines," Emily Norton, the Sierra Club's Massachusetts Chapter director, said in an emailed statement.