BOSTON, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Boston's ageing pipeline network leaks about $90 million worth of natural gas each year, marking a sizeable financial loss and a threat to the environment, according to a study released on Thursday by Harvard researchers.
The findings come as state energy officials struggle with a regional infrastructure shortfall that has left Massachusetts tight on winter heating fuel supplies during harsh cold snaps over the past three years.
"Some 2.7 percent of the gas that is brought to the Boston region never makes it to customers, it escapes into the atmosphere," according to the study, which will be published Thursday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Using sophisticated air monitoring equipment at locations around the city, researches from Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences estimated 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas, worth about $90 million, leaks into the atmosphere each year.
That is enough to heat about 200,000 homes.
"The findings have implications for other regions, especially cities that, like Boston, are older and rely on natural gas for a significant and increasing portion of their energy needs," the study said.
The study added that gas leaks have largely been neglected in studies seeking to calculate the amounts of so-called greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.
"Depending on the season, natural gas leaking from the local distribution system accounts for 60 percent to 100 percent of the region's emissions of methane, one of the most insidious heat-trapping greenhouse gases," according to the study.
New England has faced some of the highest electricity bills in the United States with occasionally brutal spike ups in winter due to strong demand for natural gas and capacity constraints on pipelines serving the region. (Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Marguerita Choy)