Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

5,900 natural gas leaks discovered under Washington, D.C.: A dozen locations had concentrations high enough to trigger explosion

Date:
January 16, 2014
Source:
Duke University
Summary:
More than 5,893 leaks from aging natural gas pipelines have been found under the streets of Washington, D.C. A dozen of the leaks could have posed explosion risks, the researchers said. Some manholes had methane concentrations as high as 500,000 parts per million of natural gas -- about 10 times greater than the threshold at which explosions can occur.

This is a map of the District of Columbia showing where researchers found natural gas leaks under city streets, with colors indicating the concentration in parts per million of methane at each location.
Credit: Duke University

More than 5,893 leaks from aging natural gas pipelines have been found under the streets of Washington, D.C. by a research team from Duke University and Boston University.

A dozen of the leaks could have posed explosion risks, the researchers said. Some manholes had methane concentrations as high as 500,000 parts per million of natural gas -- about 10 times greater than the threshold at which explosions can occur.

Four months after phoning in the leaks to city authorities, the research team returned and found that nine were still emitting dangerous levels of methane. "Finding the leaks a second time, four months after we first reported them, was really surprising," said Robert B. Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Duke who led the study.

The researchers published their findings this week in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.

"Repairing these leaks will improve air quality, increase consumer health and safety, and save money," Jackson said. "Pipeline safety has been improving over the last two decades. Now is the time to make it even better."

Nationally, natural gas pipeline failures cause an average of 17 fatalities, 68 injuries, and $133 million in property damage annually, according to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

In addition to the explosion hazard, natural gas leaks also pose another threat: Methane, the primary ingredient of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas that also can catalyze ozone formation. Pipeline leaks are the largest human-caused source of methane in the United States and contribute to $3 billion of lost and unaccounted for natural gas each year.

Jackson's team collaborated with researchers from Boston University and Gas Safety, Inc., on the new study. The team mapped gas leaks under all 1,500 road miles within Washington using a high-precision Picarro G2301 Cavity Ring-Down Spectrometer installed in a GPS-equipped car. Laboratory analyses then confirmed that the isotopic chemical signatures of the methane and ethane found in the survey closely matched that of pipeline gas.

The average methane concentration observed in the leaks was about 2.5 times higher than in background air samples collected in the city. Methane levels in some leaks were as high as 89 parts per million, about 45 times higher than normal background levels.

The team also measured how much methane was coming from four individual street-level leaks. "Methane emissions from these four leaks ranged from 9,200 to 38,200 liters per day for each leak -- that's comparable to the amount of natural gas used by between 2 and 7 homes," said Duke Ph.D. student Adrian Down.

Last year, the team mapped more than 3,300 natural-gas pipeline leaks beneath 785 road miles in the city of Boston. "The average density of leaks we mapped in the two cities is comparable, but the average methane concentrations are higher in Washington," said Nathan G. Phillips, a professor at Boston University's Department of Earth and Environment.

Like Washington and Boston, many U.S. cities have aging pipeline infrastructure that may be prone to leaks. The researchers recommend coordinated gas-leak mapping campaigns in cities where the infrastructure is deemed to be at risk.

The new study comes at a time when the nation's aging pipeline infrastructure is generating increased legislative attention. Last November, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced two new bills to speed up the replacement of natural gas pipelines in states with older infrastructures by offering new federal programs and incentives to help defray the costs associated with the repairs.

"We need to put the right financial incentives in place," said Jackson. "Companies and public utility commissions need help to fix leaks and replace old cast iron pipes more quickly."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Robert B. Jackson, Adrian Down, Nathan G. Phillips, Robert C. Ackley, Charles W. Cook, Desiree L. Plata, Kaiguang Zhao. Natural Gas Pipeline Leaks Across Washington, DC. Environmental Science & Technology, 2014; 140116080049001 DOI: 10.1021/es404474x

Cite This Page:

Duke University. "5,900 natural gas leaks discovered under Washington, D.C.: A dozen locations had concentrations high enough to trigger explosion." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116091143.htm>.
Duke University. (2014, January 16). 5,900 natural gas leaks discovered under Washington, D.C.: A dozen locations had concentrations high enough to trigger explosion. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116091143.htm
Duke University. "5,900 natural gas leaks discovered under Washington, D.C.: A dozen locations had concentrations high enough to trigger explosion." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116091143.htm (accessed August 27, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 26, 2014) Qantas and Virgin say passengers can use their smartphones and tablets throughout flights after a regulator relaxed a ban on electronic devices during take-off and landing. As Hayley Platt reports the move comes as the two domestic rivals are expected to post annual net losses later this week. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 26, 2014) Huge waves generated by Hurricane Marie hit the Southern California coast. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chinese Researchers Might Be Creating Supersonic Submarine

Chinese Researchers Might Be Creating Supersonic Submarine

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) Chinese researchers have expanded on Cold War-era tech and are closer to building a submarine that could reach the speed of sound. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakingviews: India Coal Strained by Supreme Court Ruling

Breakingviews: India Coal Strained by Supreme Court Ruling

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 26, 2014) An acute coal shortage is likely to be aggravated as India's supreme court declared government coal allocations illegal, says Breakingviews' Peter Thal Larsen. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins