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High-Tech Tool Turns Up Dozens of Natural Gas Leaks in Florida City

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Cars with special sensors mapped more than 800 miles of Jacksonville, a pilot city for a project to detect small natural gas leaks. (Environmental Defense Fund)
Cars with special sensors mapped more than 800 miles of Jacksonville, a pilot city for a project to detect small natural gas leaks. (Environmental Defense Fund)
 By Mona ShandContact
May 10, 2016

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - How safe are the natural gas lines under your street? A new high-tech tool is helping to answer that question, while potentially sparing damage to the environment and your wallet.

The collaboration between the Environmental Defense Fund and Google Earth Outreach sent cars equipped with special sensors driving all across Jacksonville to create an interactive map that shows where methane is leaking from natural gas lines.

Environmental Defense Fund consultant Mary Gade says researchers drove more than 820 miles and found nearly 90 small leaks, many of which were unknown to the utility company.

She says even small leaks pose a big environmental challenge.

"They're not a safety hazard, and so for years can be leaking methane into the atmosphere, causing climate impacts," says Gade. "And then of course, there's also consumer ramifications from this, because any gas that's lost from the system is an economic loss for ratepayers."

She explains if methane is allowed to leak into the air before being used, it absorbs the sun's heat, warming the atmosphere. For this reason, it's considered a greenhouse gas, like carbon dioxide.

Jacksonville is one of eight cities nationwide to pilot this leak-mapping technology.

Gade says Jacksonville fared much better than other cities with older infrastructures they've mapped, including Chicago and Boston. She adds Florida should be proud of its strong regulatory framework for replacing and repairing older pipes, although sometimes, smaller leaks go undetected.

Gade says the new mapping technology could be a valuable tool in the fight to reduce climate change.

"Methane is a very, very powerful greenhouse gas pollutant, even more powerful than carbon dioxide," she says. "In fact, over the first 20 years of its life, it's 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide."

Last year, the EPA proposed the first-ever rule to directly limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations, which Gade says provides another opportunity to reduce climate pollution.

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