Using Google Street View cars equipped with methane sensing technology, the first phase of a pilot between the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Google Earth Outreach has pinpointed natural gas leaks under Boston, Indianapolis and New York City's Staten Island. EDF – a Council Advisor -- unveiled interactive online maps this week to help utilities and regulators accelerate system upgrades.
The maps are phase one the pilot to explore the potential of new sensing and analytical technologies to measure environmental indicators and make the information accessible to everybody.
Leaks like the one found in Boston, Indianapolis and NYC rarely pose an immediate safety threat, according to EDF. But the leaking natural gas – which is mostly methane – can have a powerful effect on the global climate, carrying 120 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide.
“Until now, these smaller leaks have not been a priority in most places. Yet we can see from these maps just how much they can add up,” said Mark Brownstein, EDF Associate Vice President & Chief Counsel for Natural Gas. “By pulling vast amounts of information together in a place that offers simple, clickable visualization, the platform is going to be an important advocacy tool, one that helps shift resources to an area of historic underinvestment.”
This kind of technology and data offers valuable insight, agreed Susan Fleck, VP for Pipeline Safety with National Grid, a Council Lead Partner. “We are taking action, accelerating natural gas pipeline replacement to reduce leaks while enhancing safety and reliability," she said. "We've taken a leadership role on a national level and support initiatives underway to reduce methane emissions."
EDF and Google Earth Outreach will be mapping methane leaks in more cities as part of the current project. Visitors to the website can nominate their communities as future candidates for the mapping project. EDF said they are also exploring the potential of mapping other air pollutants in the future.
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