It does not matter which way you look at it, gas leaks are never a good thing. People’s lives are put at risk, as there is a higher chance of dangerous explosions, the environment is put at risk, as the concentration of gases in the atmosphere increases, and the gas companies are put at risk, as they are literally letting money leak away.
In some cities, especially the older ones, the problem is so apparent that the demand for technology that can provide real-time estimates of methane and carbon dioxide concentrations is hitting the roof. So what comes next? Well, naturally, Google to the rescue.
Google Street View and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) joined forces to create the first of this kind interactive maps showing methane leaks in cities. The initiative began last year, when methane detecting sensors were attached to all Google Street View cars that drove around Boston, New York’s Staten Island, and Indianapolis. The cities were specifically selected based on their age in order for the map makers to identify possible connection between number of locations with gas leaks and age of the pipes.
This resulted in very bad news for all habitants of old cities like Boston where corroded gas pipes releasing gas were found on every mile. In comparison, the situation in Indianapolis was much better although still not ideal, with leaks detected every 200 miles. Unfortunately, no one can celebrate just yet, as this lost methane is more than 70 times more powerful in trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
The approach proved to be very successful in mapping methane leaks and it does not come as a surprise that Google and EDF are not planning to stop with these three cities. On the EDF website, everyone has the opportunity to nominate their city and help the selection and planning of future locations. In the coming months, we can already expect the interactive methane leak maps of Los Angeles and Syracuse.
The maps are the first product based on complex sensor data, demonstrating exactly how useful such technology can be. They will be used by utility companies and regulatory bodies in their attempts to reduce and eventually eliminate urban gas leaks.
Image (c) Google Street View