Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, once the steel capital of the world, has a problem with aging natural gas lines, which are breaking down and emitting methane into the atmosphere. The vast majority of these leaky pipes aren’t in danger of causing explosions, but they’re a hazard, nonetheless.
“Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas,” said Millie Chu Baird, Director of the Office of the Chief Scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “Over the first 20 years, it is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And while most of these leaks are not an immediate safety threat, they are a threat to the environment.”
That’s why the EDF has teamed up with Google Earth Outreach, outfitting a Pittsburgh Google Street View vehicle with methane sensors far more sensitive than the human nose. As the car roams around the city capturing images for Google Maps, it will also detects leaks from natural gas pipes buried under roadways.
Over the first year of the car’s deployment, it detected 200 indications of gas leaks. These points have been plotted on an interactive map and shared with the city’s gas company, Peoples Natural Gas.
Peoples has a plan to replace Pittsburgh’s natural gas lines over the next 20 years, at a price tag of roughly $3 billion.