The environmental and safety performance of gas utilities in the United States Academic Article uri icon


  • The performance of energy service providers has important environmental and safety consequences in local communities. This paper uses a novel dataset compiled from operator reports and infrastructure monitoring data obtained from three different US federal agencies to assess the performance of retail gas utilities nationwide in terms of addressing gas leaks and minimizing leak volumes. Our panel data set includes yearly observations for 727 retail gas utilities from 2009 to 2017. We show that safety hazards and environmental costs of gas leaks are widespread across providers that vary in terms of ownership, size, and region. We then use series of Bayesian hierarchical models to regress four outcome variables--hazardous leaks, end-year unfixed leaks, total gas volume leaked, and significant incidents--on infrastructure conditions, regional service context, and socio-economic service population characteristics. Unlike what is observed in other critical infrastructure cases such as drinking water, socioeconomic conditions are not strongly predictive of service outcomes. Public utilities exhibit better environmental performance on average, and no difference in maintenance backlogs. Because the environmental costs of poor performance--primarily in terms of methane greenhouse gas emissions--are predominantly social, policy tools such as consolidation and privatization are unlikely to improve environmental outcomes.

altmetric score

  • 5.45

author list (cited authors)

  • Scott, R. P., Scott, T. A., & Greer, R. A.

citation count

  • 2

publication date

  • October 2019