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Editorial What lies beneath may just be leaking

October 10, 2018

It sounds like a long-awaited (25 centuries) “Chicken Little” sequel.

“Look down, the dirt is leaking!”

Except it’s not a fable, and the perils represent more than a bonk on the crown from plummeting acorns.

The latest call to arms comes in the aftermath of underground explosions in Massachusetts last month that killed one person and left 8,600 customers without power.

Bridgeport state Rep. Chris Rosario declared “I’ve sounded the alarm” to inspect old lines.

It may sound somewhat alarmist to presume utilities don’t have strategic plans for dealing with the leaky lines, but we prefer Chicken Little’s approach compared with lawmakers who, for example, let pension debt pile up until Connecticut could no longer dig out of it.

Rosario and state Rep. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, are demanding answers about the scope of the problem, plans to replace leaky lines and clarification on the inspection process.

State officials are offering reassurances that Connecticut is not on the verge of exploding — at least not literally (economically, the fuse is sizzling).

But it’s hard to look down and see any upsides. The environmental group the Sierra Club released a study that fissures in natural gas lines in the state capital in 2017 could power 214 homes a year.

Yankee Gas, which serves several Fairfield County towns, has a list of 530 miles of compromised gas lines.

Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) spokesman Chris Collibee offered reassurances of “robust leak detection programs,” but they appear to be reliant on the self-reporting of gas companies.

And while federal statistics suggest a decline in leaks, Collibee was unable to cite specific figures on the number of miles of leak-prone pipelines beneath the Nutmeg State.

While testifying to PURA during hearings related to a proposed fee increase, the director of gas engineering for Eversource and Yankee Gas acknowledged a substantial risk to customers and suggested quick replacement of 530 miles of problematic lines.

Such unwelcome realities leak faster than White House gossip when utilities are begging for cash to remedy the problem.

Other utilities pointed to the millions they will spend on improvements over the next few years, but, again, were unable to surface much in the way of specifics.

On a grassroots level, other communities have used dying trees as a canary (sorry Chicken Little, the canaries get it right) in a coal mine. Tree experts have long faulted gas leaks with leading to the demise of otherwise healthy timber.

Rosario was as vague as a utility spokesman but did suggest state lawmakers examine PURA’s procedures for safety and inspections.

If you think that’s being overly cautious, take a closer look at the rubble from the dozens of homes that caught fire in three Boston suburbs last month. It’s enough to inspire many consumers to look skyward for solar solutions.

We shouldn’t have to be hit in the head to welcome more watchdogs on such a potentially grave threat.

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