Google Street View Maps Methane Leaks In US Cities: Here's Why It's Important


The drive to detect methane leaks has been underway in the U.S. cities. With Google Street View mapping cars giving the lead, fitted with state-of-the-art methane analyzers and sensors scouring gas leaks beneath the urban centers.

The mission has been spearheaded by researchers at Colorado State University (CSU) in association with the Environment Defense Fund and Google Earth Outreach.

The cars are fitted with infrared laser methane analyzers that detect the methane concentration in the air while algorithms compute the methane leaks and the size of such underground emissions.

The data is being monitored by researchers at the Colorado State University. According to lead researcher and CSU associate professor of biology Joe von Fischer, the effort will pre-empt any labor-intensive steps in the future to measure out methane leaks from the distribution chain.

The project's intent is to help the government and utility companies to prioritize leak repairs by addressing the top 8 percent of leaks to slash methane emissions from pipelines by 30 percent.

Mapping Methane Leaks More Effective

Meanwhile, the mapping exercise at the leaking natural gas pipelines with Google Street View cars has been found far more effective than conventional leak detection efforts.

The Google Street View cars drove from street to street with methane analyzers collecting air samples to measure the concentration of methane.

In New York state, the Google cars drove around Boston, Indianapolis, Staten Island, and Syracuse. Maps were made from the methane data for algorithms to pinpoint locations where underground pipes are leaking.

Boston Among Worst Affected

So far the worst affected areas have been found to be Boston, Staten Island, and Syracuse, where old cast iron distribution pipes are existing.

At Burlington and Indianapolis replacement of pipes with corrosion-resistant materials made a positive change with methane levels found to be 25 times lower than per kilometer of road.

The mapping has estimated that the largest 8 percent of leaking pipes are in Boston, Staten Island, and Syracuse. If they are repaired on a priority, the overall reduction in methane emissions from leaks will be 30 percent.

California Methane Leak

Southern California faced the hazards of methane leak in the last quarter of 2016 after utility officials detected the underground pipe leak in late October. The leak was reported by the Southern California Gas Co. Thousands of families were evacuated following the methane emissions.

It was described as an "environmental disaster" by the Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and two schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District had to be closed.

The methane leak was a jolt to California Gov. Jerry Brown's efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

More than 72,000 metric tons of methane have leaked, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

"Methane is in a category of greenhouse gasses known as short-lived climate pollutants," suggested a note on the website of California's Air Resources Board.

Thousands of residents from the Porter Ranch community had to relocate after complaining of nausea and other problems.

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