How bad are gas leaks in your neighborhood? Worse than you think

Matthew Grocoff

December 9, 2014

By: Matthew Grocoff, Green Renovation Expert

In: Green Living

There are hundreds of thousands of miles of gas pipes beneath our feet in America. It only makes sense that some of that would leak. Until recently, no one has taken the time nor effort to measure just how bad our aging natural gas infrastructure is.

Imagine if we didn't have natural gas. Then some politician came along today and advocated that we build an expensive network of pipes filled with an explosive deadly gas and deliver it directly inside our homes. Would this idea be popular? Would we first want to know if these pipes might leak? Would this gas pollute our air or harm our children? I can hear the Mommy & Daddy Blogs getting fired up over how silly this idea sounds. Yet we've come to accept that this is what normal looks like without asking whether it is what good looks like.

Google is helping answer the question of how much gas is leaking into our neighborhoods. Some leaks do pose an immediate and deadly threat. However, most leaks go largely unnoticed despite the harm they can cause our atmosphere and our climate. Using sensors developed at Colorado State University, Google's Street View cars are able to detect methane leaking from aging pipes into our air and atmosphere.

The results in cities with older infrastructure are alarming. Check out the methane maps here: http://www.edf.org/climate/methanemaps

Methane map staten island
DETECTED METHANE LEAKS IN THE CITY OF STATEN ISLAND

Why is this such a big deal? Gas leaks are wasteful and contribute to smog, which aggravates asthma and other respiratory conditions, and add to global warming.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. In fact, it is 86 times more potent in the short term than CO2, the gas we hear most about when talking about climate change.

We have the ability to create all-electric homes powered by renewable energy. For this reason, I've advocated for ditching all the gas appliances in our homes and removing our gas meters. http://www.oldhouseweb.com/blog/time-to-kiss-your-gas-stove-goodbye/.

Why are leaks a problem? Learn more here: http://www.edf.org/climate/methanemaps/leaks-problem

Here's some of geeky facts from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The U.S. natural gas pipeline network is a highly integrated transmission and distribution grid that can transport natural gas to and from nearly any location in the lower 48 States. The natural gas pipeline grid comprises:

  • More than 210 natural gas pipeline systems.
  • 305,000 miles of interstate and intrastate transmission pipelines.
  • More than 1,400 compressor stations that maintain pressure on the natural gas pipeline network and assure continuous forward movement of supplies.
  • More than 11,000 delivery points, 5,000 receipt points, and 1,400 interconnection points that provide for the transfer of natural gas throughout the United States.
  • 24 hubs or market centers that provide additional interconnections.
  • 400 underground natural gas storage facilities (see map).
  • 49 locations where natural gas can be imported/exported via pipelines (see map).
  • 8 LNG (liquefied natural gas) import facilities and 100 LNG peaking facilities (see map).

NOTE: If you ever smell gas, or have any reason to suspect a problem, experts say to immediately exit the building or area. Don't light matches or smoke, and don't use any electrical devices, including a phone, until you are away from the suspected leak. Then, call your local utility.

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