Mapping/Geographic Analysis: Gas Leaks and Tree Deaths in the City of Boston


The City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have worked over the last several years to gain better access to data on natural gas leaks in the area. The city is interested in how these leaks might affect public health and environmental outcomes within the city. One area of concern to the city’s Environment department is the tree canopy of the city. To use the city’s own words, “trees add to the well-being of our communities by: moderating our local climate; filtering air pollutants; storing stormwater and reducing run-off; adding to the diversity of species by providing a stable habitat, and connecting us to larger ecosystems.”

A 2007 goal to add 100,000 new trees to Boston’s canopy within a decade has fallen far short, in large part because existing trees are dying faster than the city can replace them. While some trees have died due to storm damage or drought or known parasites or diseases, there are many more that have died under less clear circumstances. One suspected culprit in these tree deaths is natural gas.

There are several reasons there has not been a full investigation of this potential link, not least of which is the availability and state of the data on gas leaks within the city. I set out to coordinate and format the available data, and to look at it in light of data on trees and tree removals within the city in the hopes of finding evidence of a connection or of a lack thereof.

While I won’t claim to have proven a connection, some of my explorations have yielded enough results to indicate that this remains a promising line of inquiry for me or another researcher to continue to pursue.

Read the full paper here


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