With an assist from an environmental group, an internet giant and academia, New York City-based Consolidated Edison (ConEd) is striving to curb more natural gas pipeline system leaks across its system.
ConEd is using new technology to better pinpoint leaks in a collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Google's Earth Outreach unit and researchers at Colorado State University (CSU).
The combination utility is seeking to better manage the strain winter puts on its underground gas distribution and transmission pipelines traversing under New York City and neighboring suburban Westchester County. This winter ConEd is armed with detailed mapping supplied by Google Street View's mapping cars that are equipped with methane sensors.
In the past four years, EDF and Google have teamed up with utilities in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in similar efforts to improve detection and maintenance of gas leaks.
In a recent pilot project, EDF calculated that ConEd doubled the volumes of methane it was able to prevent from escaping compared to its traditional leak prevention work. ConEd was able to apply cutting-edge spatial analytics and methane sensors fitted to the mapping cars to spot hard-to-detect leaks.
Repairing and replacing leak-prone pipelines has become a top priority of utilities and state regulators, according to EDF, which has an ongoing national campaign.
ConEd updates every 24 hours an online map of all reported leaks on its system, both hazardous and nonhazardous. It also urges customers to report any possible leaks, even if they’re already on the map.
EDF said utilities around the nation are focused on reducing the backlog of leaks on their gas systems, but the emphasis traditionally is on fixing dangerous leaks quickly, leaving leaks classified as nonhazardous to persist.
"Researchers estimate there are more than a million of these nonhazardous leaks nationwide, all of which contribute to climate change," an EDF spokesperson said. "The new approach makes it much easier to identify which non-hazardous leaks are releasing the most gas and to prioritize those for immediate repair."