Thanks to an aging infrastructure, the frequency of natural gas leaks is increasing, but new technology is helping identify them before catastrophe strikes. Gas leaks are difficult to identify because gas is invisible, but Google and Colorado State University are working together to identify them by utilizing Google Street View, and early results have been impressive.
In addition to identifying natural gas leaks, the initiative has also sought to quantify the magnitude of each detected leak. This has facilitated the creation of an interactive site that provides snapshots of the degree of leakage in specific cities (the current list, as of the time of this writing, consists of 11 cities, but more will be added as the project expands geographically). It’s the old 80/20 rule at its best – identifying and repairing the largest 20% of leaks is estimated to reduce methane emissions by 50%.
Why Detecting Natural Gas Leaks Matters
Identifying and quantifying natural gas leaks is important because natural gas is primarily comprised of a greenhouse gas, which means that leakage contributes to global warming. This is why, from an emergency preparedness perspective, I applaud this initiative. Natural gas leaks generally only get press when something blows up, but the effect of leakage on the climate is the bigger picture. As I have previously discussed, the warming climate is increasing the volatility of severe weather, which obviously contributes to an increase in outages. Anything we can do to slow or even reverse this trend will benefit not only utility companies, but their customers as well.