Gas pipes

Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. 

So-called “Natural gas”- the stuff a lot of us use to heat our homes and run our stoves- is basically methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. In the short term, methane is 80 times more potent than CO2 when it comes to warming the planet. 

So, states are looking for ways to use less of this fossil fuel. And Massachusetts has a new plan to do just that. 

Here to tell us more are our Possibly reporters Janek Schaller and Iman Khanbhai

Janek Schaller: How’s it going, Megan?

Iman Khanbhai: Hi!

Megan: So, tell me more about what’s happening in Massachusetts right now.

Iman: Ok, for the past 4 years or so, the Department of Public Utilities in Massachusetts has been exploring the future of natural gas. 

Megan: And they’re doing this because they want to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions?

Janek: Exactly. Like other states across the country, Massachusetts made a pledge to bring its emissions down to zero by 2050. If it wants to reach that goal, the state will need to phase out natural gas.

Megan: Got it. And Massachusetts finally has a plan? 

Iman: That’s right! It’s called the 20-80 order, and it’s kind of a big deal.

Dr. Michael Walsh: The 20-80 order rocked not only Massachusetts, it didn’t just rock New England, it rocked the entire country in terms of how a lot of states are thinking about the future of gas.

Janek: That’s Dr. Michael Walsh, a decarbonization and energy strategist who gave feedback on 20-80.

Megan: So why did this plan rock the country? 

Iman: For starters, it discourages utility companies from investing in the infrastructure that brings natural gas to people’s homes and businesses. 

Megan: In what way?

Janek: Well, before a company can do something like fix a natural gas pipeline, the 20-80 order now requires it to explore all of its other options.

Iman: That could include heating homes with electricity or geothermal energy instead of natural gas.

Megan: Does that mean Massachusetts is hoping to abandon its natural gas system altogether?

Iman: Well, this isn’t a complete ban on natural gas service in Massachusetts – the electric grid is limited and can’t reach everyone in the state, yet. 

Janek: But, it’s a good time to start this process. 

Megan: Why? 

Iman: First, there are other ways of heating homes, like heat pumps. They’re reliable, run on electricity, and are three to four times as energy-efficient as gas-powered furnaces.

Janek: Also, the gas infrastructure in Massachusetts is getting old- some portions were put in more than 100 years ago. When those pipes leak, they release methane directly into the air.

Iman: But fixing those pipelines to eliminate leaks is expensive. Repairs to Massachusetts’s existing gas infrastructure is expected to cost $20 billion dollars.  

Megan: So, why invest in a system that’s expensive and falling apart when there are better options out there? 

Janek: Exactly. 

Megan: But what happens to the houses that are using natural gas now?

Janek: That’s where Massachusetts’ plan really shines. It encourages gas and electric utilities to work together to find the best places to start this transition away from natural gas and towards electricity. 

Iman: The order also says that these projects should prioritize communities with unreliable service and leak-prone pipes, as well as environmental justice populations. 

Janek: Because the truth is, everyone is going to need to transition away from natural gas eventually. As Michael Walsh, the energy strategist says-

Dr. Walsh:  “The question that’s ahead of us is how well will we manage this transition off of gas and on to a cleaner, more electrified future.”

Megan: How do we know the utility companies will follow this plan?

Iman: Starting in 2025, they have to submit reports detailing their plan to reduce emissions. And Massachusetts is working on creating financial incentives to make sure companies follow through on these plans.  

Janek: It’s now up to other states, like Rhode Island, where policymakers are also considering the future of gas, to follow Massachusetts’ lead.

Megan: We’ll stay tuned on that – thanks, Janek and Iman.

That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet, go to Or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Possibly is a co-production of The Public’s Radio, Brown University’s Institute for Environment and Society and Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative.

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