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Oil dealer's representative: Fix leaky pipes before expanding natural gas

Cromwell, CT, August 2, 2013 The head of a trade group representing the state’s home heating oil dealers is using a new report to assail Connecticut’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES) as it relates to natural gas.

Chris Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, said state regulators reviewing plans for a major expansion of natural gas distribution lines as part of the energy strategy would be wise to scale back the plans based on the findings of a report released Thursday by Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey

The 24-page report found that U.S. natural gas companies in the United States released 69 billion cubic feet of the fuel into the air through leaky pipes in 2011 alone, enough to meet the needs of the state of Maine for a year.

U.S. consumers paid $20 billion for natural gas that was never used between 2000 and 2011 because the law allows the utilities to charge customers for whatever is lost into the atmosphere, according to Markey’s report.

Herb urged Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to “take pause and reconsider ... their support of the state’s gas utilities request to expand in Connecticut, until we are assured that any and all leaking natural gas lines are fixed.”

The state’s three natural gas utilities have submitted a plan to PURA that, if approved, would add 900 miles of new gas lines to the 1,800-mile distribution network that exists. The plan anticipates the utilities adding 280,000 new natural gas customers over the next 10 years between them.

Herb said the utilities’ reports indicate that 30 percent of Southern Connecticut Gas’ network is made from outdated pipe, while 27 percent of the Yankee Gas network and 19 percent of Connecticut Natural Gas’ system needs to be replaced.

“We raised issues to DEEP when their misguided gas expansion plan was released last year and we raise our concerns again in light of this new report,” Herb said.

Both a PURA spokesman and representatives of the three utilities were quick to criticize Herb’s claims.

“The oil industry in Connecticut has benefited for too long from policies and programs skewed for their benefit at the expense of the families and business of our state,” said Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the regulatory agency.

“There is a very strong and real focus on gas line safety and necessary investments in infrastructure upgrades will be made.”

Theresa Gilbert, a spokeswoman for Yankee Gas, said Herb’s statements “ignore the fact the state has approved spending $40 million a year to replace older pipes, which will allow the process to be completed in 15-to-20 years.”

Ed Crowder, a spokesman for UIL Holdings, which owns Southern Connecticut Gas and Connecticut Natural Gas, said the companies “have ongoing system surveys, as well as integrity management and pipeline replacement programs, that address leakage issues.”

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