Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf visited Pittsburgh on Tuesday to hail a partnership between the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Google, Peoples Natural Gas and Carnegie Mellon University that is identifying and mapping methane leaks from the city's distribution pipelines.
Wolf said the work underscores his administration's four-part plan to reduce methane emissions in the state. Peoples reached out to EDF last year to participate in the partnership, which uses Google's street view cars to detect leaks, map them and make that information available to the public. The cars are equipped with sensors that help create detailed maps of places in the city where natural gas is leaking from Peoples' pipelines.
EDF has been working for years to map leaks in 11 cities, such as Boston and Indianapolis. While the work helps to keep distribution systems safer, it's also aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is a leading greenhouse gas. It has 28-36 times more warming power than carbon dioxide and gas distribution networks are a top concern in the fight against emissions.
Carnegie Mellon has also used its own equipment to help Pittsburgh-based Peoples map leaks in its system. The company is the largest natural gas distributor in the state. It serves 700,000 customers in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky.
"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 robust energy and protecting our public health in Pennsylvania," Wolf said.
In January, Wolf unveiled a plan to reduce oil and gas industry emissions that requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to develop a new general permit for new unconventional gas well pads and to revise its current general permit for new compressor stations and processing facilities. The DEP would also develop a rule to cover methane leaks from existing oil and gas facilities and establish best management practices for leak detection and repair programs for gathering, transmission and distribution lines.
"Curbing methane leaks keeps more natural gas in the pipelines where it can go to homes and businesses -- not just wasting it by letting it drift into the atmosphere," said acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. "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."
Peoples is already in the midst of a 20-year program to replace its bare steel and cast iron pipelines, which are vulnerable to breakage from ground movement and susceptible to corrosion. Wolf's administration said Pittsburgh is the first location for the partnership's work in Pennsylvania.