Demand Accountability, Transparency, and Communication from the Washington Gas Light Co.

Dear Neighbors,

We deserve full and complete accountability, transparency, and communication from the Washington Gas Light Co. about their work on gas pipelines above and below the streets in our Georgetown neighborhood.

We certainly are not getting it now.

The gas company does not tell us about the nature of their repairs above and under our streets in Georgetown, the results of that work, or the condition and safety of the pipes and other gas-related infrastructure.  They provide no assurance or guidance about the completion of their work or the need for future repairs.

Washington Gas Light Co. Takes Notice

The good news is that this recently launched blog and my series of tweets and Facebook posts quickly attracted the attention of Washington Gas.  A few days after launching my social media sites, I was contacted by Huey J. Battle, their Regional Manager-Community Involvement.  In our phone call I recapped my experiences, frustrations, and concerns and those of my neighbors.

I told him that I was calling on Washington Gas Co. to be fully accountable and transparent and to communicate openly, effectively, and directly with all members of the Georgetown community about the work they do under and above our streets.  Mr. Battle’s responses did not give me any hope or confidence that the conduct of Washington Gas would improve anytime soon, if ever.

7 Specific Reforms and Improvements

Washington Gas Light Co. should immediately take ownership of the problem and reach out to all residents on a regular basis about the work that is being above and below ground.  The reforms should include:

  • Communicating directly with residents via e-mail and social media.
  • Producing and posting YouTube videos and webinars to help explain illustrate the gas pipeline-related problems that the gas company is addressing and make it as easy as possible for people to understand the issues and solutions.
  • Issuing news releases and briefing information to news organizations, especially community-based newspapers that focus on and highlight local news and developments.
  • Posting updates about repair work on their Websites and including repair-related information with bills that are sent to ratepayers via email or snail mail.
  • Engaging/partnering with local groups and organizations such as the Citizens Association of Georgetown and Friends of Rose Park as another way to help connect with residents.
  • Holding a regular series of community forums and town hall meetings that are co-sponsored and promoted in conjunction with advisory neighborhood commissions or other local groups and organizations.
  • Releasing to the public and posting online a complete and through audit of all gas line repairs over the past 20 years.  The audit should include information about the location, nature and results of repairs above and below ground, and updated on an annual basis.

Call to Action

The more that we all speak up, the more likely it is that we will be heard and the gas company will act on our frustrations and concerns.   Please speak up and ask for accountability, transparency, and communications from Washington Gas.  You can reach Huey Battle at HueyBattle@washgas.com or 202-624-6792.

You can also file a complaint with the DC Office of the People’s Counsel  (OPC).  The OPC is an independent agency of the District of Columbia government that advocates for consumers of natural gas, electric, and telephone services.  The agency also represents the interests of District utility ratepayers before the DC Public Service Commission and federal and other utility regulatory bodies and the courts.  Call OPC at 202-727-3017 or visit their website at http://www.opc-dc.gov.

Disturbing Pattern

Having lived in Georgetown on and off for more than 30 years, I am fed up with the never-ending and disturbing pattern of reported gas leaks, so-called repairs, and new reports of gas leaks in our neighborhood.

The tipping point for me was when I called the gas company to find out the status of their investigation and repairs concerning the strong smell of gas outside my front door that I had reported and complained about over the past two years.  My most recent complaint was this past February.   They sent out a crew that night that labored at least until midnight in the freezing cold. But they never returned to finish the work and the gas company did not have the courtesy to follow-up with an update about the matter.  When I contacted the utility a few weeks later to ask when the work would be completed, I was told that they had no record of my call in February or of their investigation and work they had done outside my house later that day and night.

Georgetown is hardly alone in dealing with gas pipeline issues.  It is a nationwide problem, and the consequences of ignoring or not dealing immediately and effectively with it can be devastating.

Too Many Horror Stories

According to a study by Stanford University, incidents involving natural gas pipelines cause an average of 17 fatalities and $133 million in property damage every year.

Unfortunately, there are too many horror stories in the Washington area and across the country about what can happen if gas leaks go undetected or are ignored. See the photo at the top of this page, which shows the result of a 2010 gas line explosion in San Bruno, California, a suburb of San Francisco. The explosion created a 50-foot fireball, destroyed dozens of homes, and killed eight people.  (See the accompanying sidebar for other horror stories.)

It’s Time We All Spoke Up   

In 2014, there were  almost 6,000 gas leaks beneath the streets of Washington D.C., according to a study by researchers at Duke and Boston universities.  We can only imagine how much worse the situation has become since then.  Although Washington Gas. Light Co. launched  a 40-year pipeline replacement program, there’s been no direct communications from the utility about any progress and how it is addressing new or reoccurring leaks.

The more that we speak up, the more likely it is that the Washington Gas Light Co. will hear us and act on our concerns.  Please speak up and demand accountability, transparency, and communication from Washington Gas.  Here’s what you can do now:

  • Contact Huey Battle, Regional Manager-Community Involvement of the Washington GasCompany at HueyBattle@washgas.com or 202-624-6792.
  • File a complaint with the DC Office of the People’s Counsel (OPC), which represents the interest of District utility ratepayers. Call the OPC at 202-727-3017 or visit their website at http://www.opc-dc.gov.
  •  File a complaint against the gas company with the DC Public Service Commission, as I have done.  Visit their website at http://www.dcpsc.org or call them at 202-626-5100.

If you have any questions, please contact me at edwardsegalcommunications@gmail.com.

Thanks for speaking up!

Edward Segal


Street Trees in Georgetown will be Surveyed this Week for Damage from Leaking Natural Gas Pipelines

Natural gas safety expert Robert Ackley of Gas Safety Inc. will be in Washington, DC Aug. 8-10 to update his research on the impact of leaking natural gas pipelines on thousands of street trees in Georgetown.
Ackley will use sensitive instruments that can detect as little as 10 parts per million of natural gas or propane and tag the readings with GPS coordinates that will be plotted using Google Earth.
Reporters are invited to follow Ackley as he conducts his research on the streets of Georgetown or to schedule interviews with him afterwards. He will check on the leaks he had previously identified in a 2011 study and examine additional streets for ongoing damage. He will share the results of his research with community leaders and public officials.
“While it is important to periodically assess the impact of natural gas leaks on trees, it is urgent that we identify and stop those leaks in order to prevent further damage,” Ackley said.
In 2014 Ackley helped conduct a study sponsored by Stanford and Duke Universities that found there were almost 6,000 gas leaks in the nation’s capital. He estimates that gas leaks are responsible for $15-$20 million in damage to trees in the District of Columbia.
There are an estimated 145,000 street trees in Washington, according to the DC Urban Forestry Administration and approximately 1,500 miles of streets in the District.
Ackley owns the Massachusetts-based consulting firm Gas Safety Inc., which has tested for gas leaks across the country. He has called bare metal pipelines “a ticking time bomb. The steel is going to corrode. It’s only a matter of time before it rusts out.”
“It is important for the residents of Georgetown to know how and to the extent natural gas leaks are affecting their lives, property, and environment,” Ackley said. “My visit will be an important opportunity to update my research, and to share what I learn with residents, community leaders, and public officials, he said.
Natural gas leaks can be both an explosion and environmental hazard that contributes to global warming. Leaks from distribution piping systems are causing millions of dollars of damage to trees, shrubs, and lawns, according to Ackley.

My goal is to protect trees and property owners from harmful natural gas leaks,” Ackley said.
About the Equipment Ackley Will Use
Ackley will use sensitive instruments that can detect as little as 10 parts per million (ppm) of natural gas or propane. The cavity ringdown spectrometer (CRDS) equipment detects and documents methane in parts per billion (ppb) and tags each reading with global positioning (GPS) coordinates that can be plotted in Google Earth. His industry standard flame ionization unit (FIU) detects methane at 1ppm and the Bascom-Turner combustible gas indicator(CGI) is sensitive to 500 ppm.

About Ackley

Ackley has 35 years of experience with natural gas pipelines. He has provided training and compliance safety services to natural gas operators to identify and classify natural gas leakage, transmission line patrolling, and atmospheric corrosion inspections. Ackley continues to collaborate with research teams from Boston University and Stanford University on quantifying emissions from various sources.
Ackley has conducted gas pipeline safety research in Washington DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, and North Carolina.

For more information, go to http://www.GasSafeyUSA.com.

A Non-Responsive Response from Washington Gas Light Co.

Several weeks ago I filed a complaint against the Washington Gas Light Company via the Office of Peoples Counsel in Washington, DC.   The complaint was specific in terms of my issues, concerns, and the reforms and improvements I was calling on the gas company to implement.  Last week OPC received a response from WGL which listed a series of their policy statements but failed to address the issues I listed and described in the complaint.  It was a non-responsive response to an important local public safety  issue.

Yesterday I filed a complaint against WGL with the Public Service Commission, which has jurisdiction over the gas company.  According to the staff of PSC, the gas company has 14 days to respond to my complaint.

Gas Company Continues Dismal Record of Lack of Transparency, Accountability, and Communication with Our Community about Gas Leaks and Repairs

Washington Gas Co. continuues its dismal record of failing to communicate with and be transparent and accountabile with our community about gas leaks and repairs beneath and above our streets.

The latest example:  work last week by the gas company on 28th Street, NW near Dumbarton Avenue.  Some the workers were apparently wearing protective gear including oxygen masks.  A fire extinguisher was at the ready on the sidewalk.

As in the past, there was no advance notice from the gas company to the community about what their crews were working on, any potential dangers to residents, follow-up about the nature or success of their repairs, next steps, etc.

How long will the commmunity continue to put up with the continued lack  of communication, accountability, and transparency by the Washington Gas Light Company?

USA TODAY investigates: Danger lurks underground from aging gas pipes

USA TODAY: About every other day over the past decade, a gas leak in the United States has destroyed property, hurt someone or killed someone, a USA TODAY Network investigation finds. The most destructive blasts have killed at least 135 people, injured 600 and caused $2 billion in damages since 2004.

The death toll includes:

• The explosion that leveled part of a New York City block in East Harlem in March, killing eight and injuring 48 more.

• A blast that flattened the concrete floors of an apartment building in Birmingham, Ala., killing one woman in December.

• A flash fireball in 2012 that left an Austin man dead, a scarred foundation where his house once stood and debris strewn across yards of his neighbors.

Read the entire article at: USA TODAY.