New Tools Pinpoint Natural Gas Leaks, Maximizing a Fuel’s Green Qualities

Natural gas is hailed as green and safe, but its environmental benefits and ability to temper climate change are reduced by its tendency to leak into the air undetected. 

Now, laser technology, some of it borrowed from the telecommunications industry, is giving engineers and scientists crucial new tools to measure leaks and track them to their source.

Pacific Gas & Electric, which operates in northern and central California, has begun training employees to use the technology, a portable gas detector that was recently used in a car driven 785 miles through the streets of Boston.

Natural gas escapes into the atmosphere from two basic sources: natural ones, like swamps and marshes, and human activity, like leaking gas wells and pipelines. The boom in natural gas production, including hydraulic fracturing, has raised concerns about a subsequent boom in leaks, although how much gas escapes remains a mystery. The Environmental Protection Agency has been working on the question for years and “is still operating with guesses,” said John C. Bosch, who specialized in that issue before he retired from that agency four years ago.

Read full text at The New York Times