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Con Edison Partners with EDF and Google to Map and Measure Methane Leaks, Prioritize Infrastructure Upgrades on NYC and Westchester Natural Gas System

New Tech Identifies Problem Areas Faster, Cheaper than Before, Reducing Waste and Emissions

Winter is tough on our region’s infrastructure. That includes the underground pipes supplying natural gas to thousands of homes and businesses. Freeze/thaw cycles put extra strain on aging lines precisely when customers need gas most, creating maintenance challenges for utility operators to grapple with year-round.

Now, New York’s Consolidated Edison is experimenting with new advanced leak detection technology,  in partnership with the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund, Google Earth Outreach and the Colorado State University, to help prioritize the repair and replacement of aging natural gas lines under the streets of New York City and Westchester County. Data was generated using Google Street View mapping cars specially equipped with methane sensors.

“Eliminating leaks from older pipes is a challenge for gas utilities everywhere. This technology helps focus efforts where they deliver the biggest benefits by reducing wasted gas and lowering methane emissions,” said Jonathan Peress, Senior Director of Energy Market Policy. “Reducing methane emissions is one of the quickest ways we have to protect the climate. That’s why we’re glad to see Con Edison embrace solutions like this one.”

A two-minute video on the EDF/Google Earth Outreach mapping technology is here.

Persistent leaks represent both a waste of customer resources and needless impact on the environment, because methane – the main element in natural gas – is a potent greenhouse gas. In recent years, rapidly repairing large leaks and replacing leak-prone supply pipes has become increasingly important for utilities and regulators nationwide.

Using cutting-edge spatial analytics combined with methane sensors specially fitted to Google Street View mapping cars to map and measure leaks hidden beneath local streets quickly and efficiently, EDF calculates that Con Edison was able to reduce nearly twice the estimated volume of methane escaping from areas surveyed in a recent pilot project compared with a business-as-usual approach.

Like many utilities, Con Edison is focused on reducing the backlog of leaks on its gas system. Companies are required to fix dangerous leaks quickly, but leaks classified as non-hazardous can often persist for years. In fact, researchers estimate there are over a million of these non-hazardous leaks nationwide, all of which contribute to climate change. 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.

“Both Con Edison and EDF are committed to protecting the environment, and we are pleased to be working with them to identify technology that advances our efforts to reduce methane emissions from our distribution system, " said Marc Huestis, Con Edison’s Senior Vice President of Gas Operations. “By working together, sharing information, and using the most sophisticated technology available, we’re optimizing our leak reduction efforts to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

EDF, Google and CSU have been developing advanced leak detection technology for six years, first in open-air laboratories, then by surveying and mapping leaks in the field, working with utilities in a dozen U.S. cities to spotlight the methane issue and show it can be addressed cost-effectively. Nationwide, utilities are increasingly using new advanced leak detection technologies to prioritize repair programs, and EDF expects to see the trend grow as commercial vendors continue to enter the market.

For its part, Con Edison publishes an online map of all reported leaks on its system, both hazardous and non-hazardous, updated every 24 hours, and urges customers to report any possible leaks they encounter, even if they’re already on the map.