Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Google, Environmental Defense Fund Use New Tech To Find Methane Leaks In Pittsburgh

The Environmental Defense Fund and Google Earth Outreach Tuesday released online maps showing the location and size of methane leaks discovered beneath Pittsburgh city streets using specially-equipped Google Street View mapping cars.
The project is designed to showcase cutting-edge technologies to help operators prioritize costly pipeline repair and replacement efforts.
Peoples Gas, which owns the pipes, has been working to replace aging, leak-prone lines throughout its system, and invited EDF to bring the project to Pittsburgh.
Leaks like the ones mapped by the team don’t usually pose an immediate safety threat, but leaking natural gas – which is mostly methane – has a powerful effect on the climate, packing 84 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe.
Reducing methane leakage has also been a major focus of Gov. Tom Wolf’s efforts to ensure that Pennsylvania’s oil and gas sector is both cleaner and more competitive.
“Methane leaks are a serious issue in cities across the country, and for the oil and gas industry as a whole. It’s a waste of customer resources, a waste of national resources, and a serious environmental challenge,” said EDF President Fred Krupp. “Replacing old, leaking pipes is an important opportunity to cut greenhouse emissions quickly. New data like this can help get the job done in a way that’s better for ratepayers and the environment alike.”
Nearly half of Pittsburgh’s local gas lines are more than 50 years old. Street View mapping cars collected hundreds of thousands of readings over 320 miles of city streets between downtown, Oakland and Highland Park, chosen as a representative sample.
Created from data taken over a period of months, the maps don’t paint a real-time picture. But they do reflect conditions facing Peoples Gas and dozens of other utilities, particularly in older cities.
Click Here to view the Pittsburgh maps.
“Peoples approached the EDF to begin to measure and monitor methane releases from our pipelines, and we thank them for lending their expertise on this project,” said Morgan O’Brien, president and CEO of Peoples. “Peoples has embarked on a 20-year, multibillion dollar pipeline modernization and methane mitigation program. We will hone the data, technology and methodology developed during this project to drive our improvement plan throughout our entire pipeline system.”      
Peoples is accelerating their pipe replacement effort, prioritizing the most populated areas in and around the Pittsburgh. They plan to continue working with EDF, along with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, to expand methane monitoring efforts and maximize the resulting environmental benefits.
The leak detection and measurement technology used in this project is newer and more sensitive than typically used by utilities generating far more information than most operators now collect.
All utilities are required by law to monitor their lines and immediately fix leaks that pose a safety threat. But other leaks can and often do go undetected or unrepaired for long periods. Over time, the emissions add up.
“Google has a close connection and long history with the Pittsburgh community, and shares its dedication to science, technology, and the environment. We are excited that Google technology can play an important role here, to power the measurement, analysis, and communication of environmental information,” said Karin Tuxen-Bettman, Program Manager for Google Earth Outreach. “Making this information more accessible can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.”
Utilities in New York and California are already publishing dynamic maps of their natural gas leaks. Sharing geographically-attributed leak data can help regulators and ratepayers track utilities’ leak management performance, and ensure cost-efficient emission reductions.
In New Jersey, the state’s largest utility is using data collected by EDF and Google Earth Outreach to maximize the environmental benefits of a $900 million pipeline replacement program.
Click Here to view a video of the project.
Next Steps In Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has taken important steps to address the methane challenge across the oil and gas supply chain, putting it ahead of many other states.
Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed a multi-pronged strategy to reduce methane emissions from the state’s oil and gas sector, including best management practices to address pipeline leaks. But there’s more that can be done.
“Pennsylvania should require more frequent leak surveys using state-of-the-art technology across the oil and gas supply chain, not just to find leaks, but also to measure them. That data should also be more accessible to both regulators and the public,” Krupp said.
“Pennsylvania should require more frequent leak surveys using state-of-the-art technology across the oil and gas supply chain, not just to find leaks, but also to measure them. That data should also be more accessible to both regulators and the public,” Krupp said.
“This partnership that will use Google’s existing assets – their Street View cars -  to identify hidden underground methane leaks from local natural gas systems is truly groundbreaking and so important,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “The results of this effort will help the utility and its regulators to efficiently target the largest repair needs to prevent further leaks and help us reach our goal of establishing a robust energy and protecting our public health in Pennsylvania.”
“Curbing methane leaks keeps more natural gas in the pipelines where it go to homes and businesses – not just wasting it by letting it drift into the atmosphere,” said Patrick McDonnell, Acting Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. “At DEP we’re working to write new rules to keep methane in the pipes with cutting edge leak-detection technology and cutting down on emissions from wells and compressor stations.”
Methane, the primary component of natural gas, has been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activities.  It has more than 28 to 36 times more warming power than carbon dioxide, according to data from the federal government.
Included in Pennsylvania’s methane reduction plan are these four strategies:
-- To reduce leaks at new unconventional natural gas well pads, DEP will develop a new general permit for oil and gas exploration, development, and production facilities, requiring Best Available Technology (BAT) for equipment and processes, better record-keeping, and quarterly monitoring inspections.
-- To reduce leaks at new compressor stations and processing facilities, DEP will revise its current general permit, updating best-available technology requirements and applying more stringent LDAR, other requirements to minimize leaks. A new condition will require the use of Tier 4 diesel engines that reduce emissions of particulate matter and nitrous oxide by about 90%.
-- To reduce leaks at existing oil and natural gas facilities, DEP will develop requirements for existing sources for consideration by the Environmental Quality Board.
-- To reduce emissions along production, gathering, transmission and distribution lines, DEP will establish best management practices, including leak detection and repair programs.
With federal estimates that the natural gas and oil industries account for a quarter of U.S. methane emissions, reducing methane leaks from the oil and gas sector is one of the essential steps needed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the impacts of climate change.
For more information on Pennsylvania’s methane reduction strategy, visit DEP’s website and EDF’s Research On Methane Leaks webpage.
(Photo: Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell at Tuesday event in Pittsburgh.)
Mapping Pittsburgh’s Natural Gas Leaks Via Lasers

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