Washington D.C. not only a source of hot air, but now “planet killing methane” too,

Apparently, it isn’t just the Arctic that has a ticking methane bomb, there’s actually explosive levels in Washington D.C. recorded. From Duke University and the “there must be a joke in here somewhere department”:

5,900 natural gas leaks discovered under Washington, D.C.

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

A dozen locations had concentrations high enough to trigger explosion

DURHAM, NC – 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.

IMAGE: This is a satellite image of the District of Colombia with bar charts showing where natural gas leaks were located under city streets and in what concentration methane was identified….Click here for more information.

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.”

###

Co-authoring the new study with Jackson, Down and Phillips were Charles W. Cook and Kaiguang Zhao, of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment; Robert C. Ackley of Gas Safety, Inc.; and Desiree L. Plata of Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering.

Funding came from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and the Duke Center on Global Change.

CITATION: “Natural Gas Pipeline Leaks Across Washington, D.C.,” Robert B. Jackson, Adrian Down, Nathan G. Phillips, Robert C. Ackley, Charles W. Cook, Desiree L. Plata and Kaiguang Zhao. Environmental Science & Technology, January 16, 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es404474x.

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68 thoughts on “Washington D.C. not only a source of hot air, but now “planet killing methane” too,

  1. Jezus, hope they fix that before wannabe terrorists get around to exploiting it. Washington DC no less.

  2. Mark Bofill says:
    January 16, 2014 at 3:13 pm
    Jezus, hope they fix that before wannabe terrorists get around to exploiting it. Washington DC no less.

    Considering that in one case all you’d need is a match, you can’t be much lower tech than that. Walk around with a gas meter, then flick your Bic. Mass destruction on-the-cheap.

  3. 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.

    Well, at least it’s a “no regrets” measure.

  4. Mark Bofill said:
    “Jezus, hope they fix that before wannabe terrorists get around to exploiting it. ”

    Why would they want to hurt or damage the source of their funding? Silly! :)

  5. “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.”

    500,000 ppp (aka 50%) is actually about 3 times greater than the threshold at which explosions can occur – the upper explosive limit for methane is 16-17%.

  6. 500,000 ppm ,methane, also known as 50% methane. As mentioned 50% isn’t an immediate explosion risk, as it’s too concentrated to go boom!

  7. In related news…
    A terrorist planning an attack in Washington DC for later this year accidentally blew up parts of the city today when his cigarette butt inadvertently fell down a manhole. Fortunately only the White House, EPA Headquarters and the Capitol were totally destroyed. Economic output immediately took a surprising turn upwards across the Nation.
    Film at 11.

  8. When I was an engineer at a utility, the crews that worked in the manholes always tested the air with what was called an explosimeter before they would go into the hole. Pretty much every work truck in the company was equipped with that piece of test equipment, and they were all retrieved and tested on regular basis.

  9. 15 years ago the utility people replaced a huge iron pipe on 21st street NW, The Iron pipe was stamped 1890. One of the utility workers said “Pipe does not owe us a nickel”. The water pipes are running with lead.

  10. Anth0ny:

    I do not dispute that there are many leaks from gas mains: I would be surprised if there were not. Indeed, earlier this week on another WUWT thread I mentioned leaks from gas mains supplying to buildings.

    However, it is not clear to me that all (or most) of the recorded high methane values reported in the above article do derive from leaking gas mains.

    Sewers also generate methane by degradation of sewerage. Places in sewers can obtain very high methane concentrations from this cause alone.

    Finding a high methane concentration under a manhole cover is not – of itself – an indication of a leak from a gas main.

    Richard

  11. The average methane concentration observed in the leaks was about 2.5 times higher than … normal … .

    LOL. And we Americans always wondered how the Capital Dome didn’t blow off, sky high. Heh, so thaaaat’s where they’re storing all the pressure relief excess gas… . And it’s much worse, now, …….. since a certain Puppet in Chief “won” the presidency. Oh, don’t worry about the overflow/leaks; Dopebama, et. al., are currently negotiating a contract to sell it to the Sustainability Suckers Club (based in San Francisco) to fill their members’ bicycle tires.

  12. Most water piping in ageing cities is either cast iron or concrete with various types of joints (not welded) loss over transmission can be over 50% in some cities, but nobody seems to care as the losses are just factored into the cost to consumers.

    Cat iron pipes over 100 years old are common amnd usually still in good codition, but the joints are leaking due to age and ground movement from building works and traffic.

  13. richardscourtney;
    Sewers also generate methane by degradation of sewerage.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    That was exactly my thought as I read. Doesn’t look like they tried to differentiate sewer generated vs leaked, they just blamed everything they found on leaked.

  14. …. and I recommend that they just shut D. C. down until this is thoroughly investigated. Could take years.

    Hurrah! #(:))

  15. D.J. Hawkins says:
    January 16, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Mark Bofill says:
    January 16, 2014 at 3:13 pm
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    I am surprised something hasn’t blown before this. Think lit cigarettes tossed down street drains….

  16. Sherp says: @ January 16, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    15 years ago the utility people replaced a huge iron pipe on 21st street NW, The Iron pipe was stamped 1890. One of the utility workers said “Pipe does not owe us a nickel”. The water pipes are running with lead.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Some of the water pipes are wood. … the 6-inch-wide city pipe that still delivers drinking water to a block on Nixon Street here uses an even more primitive technology: wood…

    Makes you wonder what politicians are spending our money on. Shades of the poor condition of the levees in New Orleans. Could New Orleans have been saved for $809,659?

  17. If only we could divert billions from CO2 reduction action, to strengthening infrastructure and supply/distribution lines. Money would then address real urgent problems with real tangible benefits to society. Alas… GK

  18. A BS-detector analysis would be nice to see as well. Efficient as well because GPS wouldn’t be necessary. The tallest bars on the chart would be at 1600 Pennsylvania, and at the top of Capitol Hill, along with numerous other Federal buildings, notably EPA headquarters, Holder’s DOJ castle, and the IRS swamp.

  19. davidmhoffer says:
    January 16, 2014 at 5:21 pm
    richardscourtney;
    Sewers also generate methane by degradation of sewerage.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    That was exactly my thought as I read. Doesn’t look like they tried to differentiate sewer generated vs leaked, they just blamed everything they found on leaked.

    “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.”

  20. “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.”

    Pardon me? Just how screwball does these people’s thinking get? Methane is a trivial greenhouse gas, with almost no effect at all. The hairy scary figure we keep seeing for it is computed by assuming it is burned somehow and turned into CO2 and H20, and the GH effects of all that is added together. Well what do they think happens when the methane does not leak and goes all the way into someone’s cooktop and heats dinner? Where do they get the idea that the leak is so bad but the normal usage isn’t? Fact is, they spin and spin endlessly, omitting whatever, stressing whatever, to fool the gullible into buying their political story.

  21. While back in the W. Va. hills, a 1938 vintage tank held together with rivets leaked a chemical into the Elk and Kenawha Rivers and 300,000 people were without water for days.

    Meanwhile, our green-fatigued government gives money away so rich folks can buy a 3rd or 4th car notable for a huge and costly battery and constructs a regulatory environment within which real car companies (the profit making kind) have to help with the cost of the fancy electric ones. Just one of the dumb things money is wasted on while the Country’s serious problems are ignored. Washington stinks – tell us something we don’t already know.

  22. D.J. Hawkins says:
    January 16, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Mark Bofill says:
    January 16, 2014 at 3:13 pm
    Jezus, hope they fix that before wannabe terrorists get around to exploiting it. Washington DC no less.

    Considering that in one case all you’d need is a match, you can’t be much lower tech than that. Walk around with a gas meter, then flick your Bic.

    Instant suicide bomber. Seem to be short on volunteers these days.

  23. Here in the UK when we were switching from town/coal gas (which had a smell and was poisonous) to natural gas (which has no smell) there was concern that people would not be able to detect if they had left the gas on or if there was a leak so it was decided to add Mercaptan to the gas so as to give it a noticeable smell and it does work people will report any wiff they get of gas.
    In some towns gas has leaked from bad pipes for a long time that as soon as the ground is disturbed you get the smell long after the leak has been fixed.

    James Bull

  24. I remember from the early days that gas derived from coal was replaced by natural gas. There were lots of leaks and explosions from the pipe joints. Reason: coal gas was wet and kept the joint seals wet and thight. Natural gas was dried before pumping in the lines, with as result that the joint seals dried out and started to leak. After that was realized, natural gas was kept wet too…

    But if the joints are made of rubber, that does deteriorate over time. Usually by oxygen, which is very low in natural gas, but after 100+ years… Earth movements by constructions and traffic when the rubber hardens and becomes more brittle is adding to the problem.

  25. Not all leaks are the same and not all come from aging infrastructure. We detected and reported a natural gas leak in our tree lawn a couple of years ago. It was coming from a cracked plastic fitting/valve (about 30 years old) that connects the street line to the pipe feeding our house. There was no interruption in service.

    I was told by a representative of the gas company that this is fairly common and represented no immediate danger since natural gas is lighter than “air” and won’t accumulate near the leak. He also told me that the gas company has 18 months (by law/regulation) to repair the leak which means that this is pretty far down the list of important jobs.

  26. The eureka alert doesn’t attempt to quantify the leak rate or the volumes very high detections. As has been mentioned, it also doesn’t quantify the source. So, this is interesting but it really doesn’t quantify the problem, if there is one.
    Some leak trivia:
    If you put the probe of a flammable gas meter close to the tip of a freshly opened magic marker, it would register in the flammable range. I don’t think they are considered flammable.
    A landfill is considered to be leaking if the surface methane content is above 500 ppm. 10,000 ppm (1%). http://homer.ornl.gov/sesa/environment/guidance/rcra/equipmnt.pdf
    Leaks under the Hazardous Organic National Emissions Standards Hazardous Air Pollutant (HON) rule range from >500 ppm to >10,000 ppm depending on the equipment.

    So, what’s a leak?

  27. Wikipedia contains a citation of the Gas Piping and Technology Committee grading standards for leaks. It looks like a good number of these leaks would be Grade 3 (<20% LEL) and would be way down on the repair list.
    Also, the Wiki article mentions a 2013 Massachusetts Bill that would address the 20,000 documented NG leaks in the state. The leaks were estimated to be 4% of the State's GHG emissions. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_leak

    DC is likely not a unique or unprecedented result.

  28. Dave Wendt:

    Sincere thanks for reporting in your post at January 16, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    “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.”

    Hmmm. I would want much more information on “closely matched” before I would take that at face value.

    My cynicism results from similar claims of an isotopic signal indicating an anthropogenic cause for observed in atmospheric CO2. This was asserted in the first 3 IPCC Reports, but when I ‘did the sums’ I could not find such a clear indication from the isotope data. My concerns were taken up by others and the IPCC dropped the claim. Few would now make it.

    To avoid this reply to your information providing misunderstanding of what I am saying, I repeat what I said in my post at January 16, 2014 at 4:39 pm .

    I do not dispute that there are many leaks from gas mains: I would be surprised if there were not. Indeed, earlier this week on another WUWT thread I mentioned leaks from gas mains supplying to buildings.

    However, it is not clear to me that all (or most) of the recorded high methane values reported in the above article do derive from leaking gas mains.

    Sewers also generate methane by degradation of sewerage. Places in sewers can obtain very high methane concentrations from this cause alone.

    Finding a high methane concentration under a manhole cover is not – of itself – an indication of a leak from a gas main.

    An assertion that “the isotopic chemical signatures of the methane and ethane found in the survey closely matched that of pipeline gas” is not useful information.
    How similar to pipeline gas?
    and
    How different from other possible sources of methane?

    The provided synopsis at the link does not say.

    Richard

  29. richardscourtney says: @ January 17, 2014 at 4:33 am
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    If I recall, because of all the deaths related to gas leaks way back when, the USA added a gas with a stinky smell ( mercaptan) to the natural gas so it could be detected by the human nose. That gas should be a good signature of whether or not it is commercial gas for heating that they are detecting….. linky

  30. Gail Combs:

    It was James Bull not me who (at January 17, 2014 at 12:35 am) provided the correct information concerning a smell being added to UK natural gas supplies.

    It was good information and I don’t want to steal it.

    As you say, the smell may be a good indicator of methane from pipelines.

    Of most importance is the series of posts from Bob Greene concerning quantities of gas which are leaked from pipelines.

    There are two real issues
    1. Gas leaks must not pose hazard notably of explosion
    and
    2. Repair of gas leaks too small to cause hazard is only warranted if the value of leaked gas is more than the cost of repairing the leaks.

    Richard

  31. Sherp says January 16, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    The water pipes are running with lead.

    (1) I wouldn’t think that ‘lead pipe’ offers enough structural integrity to be compatible with our practices of placement in the ground (direct burial of said pipe), hence iron pipe was the rule.

    (2) The deposition of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the pipes (in Roman times) seems to have offered a measure of protection against corrosion and ‘insulates’ against the introduction of lead into the water.

    .

  32. richardscourtney says January 17, 2014 at 5:44 am

    As you say, the smell may be a good indicator of methane from pipelines.

    One is forced to ask the question at this point (since nothing should be simply ‘assumed’), what are the possibilities that the larger molecule comprising mercaptan (particularly tert-Butylthiol, also known as 2-methylpropane-2-thiol, 2-methyl-2-propanethiol, tert-butyl mercaptan (TBM), and t-BuSH, an organosulfur compound with the formula (CH3)3CSH (per wiki)) versus simple CH4 could be ‘filtered out’, and/or absorbed by, or react-with the ground/earth surrounding a slow natural piped-gas leak, thus yielding _less_ of an indication of a leak of *natural* gas from the pressurized distribution system?

    It seems the survey team from Duke University might should have looked for evidence of mercaptan as an indicator of natural gas leaks from the pressurized distribution network, but, instead, examined directly for methane, which as others have pointed out also has natural, subterranean sources besides the sewerage network.

    .

  33. _Jim says: @ January 17, 2014 at 6:31 am

    Whether the mercaptan makes it out of the pipe might depend on the size of the area the gas is supposedly leaking from but I am certain gas companies have methods for detecting whether the methane is from natural rot or from them. It would cost them too much to chase non-existent leaks otherwise.

  34. _Jim:

    I am not sure about the point you are making in your post addressed to me at January 17, 2014 at 6:31 am and your subsequent post ()with its useful link) at January 17, 2014 at 6:43 am.

    I do not dispute the possibility of several possible sources of the methane other than pipeline leaks. Indeed, I was the first in this thread to suggest another such source.

    And I agree that the odorant fades, and I ALWAYS agree that one should be sceptical of everything. And that is why I said “may” in my statement to Gail Combs which you quoted; i.e.

    As you say, the smell may be a good indicator of methane from pipelines.

    But I repeat my view

    There are two real issues
    1. Gas leaks must not pose hazard notably of explosion
    and
    2. Repair of gas leaks too small to cause hazard is only warranted if the value of leaked gas is more than the cost of repairing the leaks.

    Not being sure of what you were saying to me, I may have not answered it. But I have tried to clarify what I have said, and I found your link to be very interesting.

    Richard

  35. I remember some 50 years ago, after a meal of baked beans in the canteen, returning to barracks and competing to see who could produce the longest blue flame from an appropriately placed burning match.

  36. richard s courtney
    When I commented on the Mercaptan I was thinking of not only detection by Nasal Chromatograph (Human nose) but by thaking a sample of the gas and running it through a GC or whatever. A method that can detect levels below that of the human nose.

    As you said, unless the leaks are big enough to be dangerous or big enough to be economical to fix the gas company is not going to bother.

    I am sure the actual reason behind this investigation is to provide ammunition against Natural Gas pipelines.

    And yest there are the headlines: USA Today – Study finds 5,893 natural gas leaks in Washington, D.C.: As the use of natural gas booms in the United States, scientists are testing for pipeline leaks. They found more than 5,800 leaks under the streets of Washington, D.C., some potentially explosive.

    Washington Post – Researchers find nearly 6,000 natural gas leaks in District’s aging pipe system

    …after warning Washington Gas about those 12 locations, retested them four months later and discovered eight places where the gas buildup was still at concentrations that could cause explosions……

    Still, the gas emissions have other effects: They contribute significantly to climate change by trapping heat, they help form ground-level ozone when they react with sunlight and other gases, and they cost consumers money. In most cities, including Washington, consumers are charged for gas that is lost along transmission lines.

    Another ‘Science’ study for tabloid consumption to “keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety)”

  37. @richardscourtney says:

    >Sewers also generate methane by degradation of sewerage. Places in sewers can obtain very high methane concentrations from this cause alone.

    davidmhoffer suggests they didn’t try to differentiate, but in fact they did, referring specifically to different isotopes in order to differentiate between leaking pipe gas (which is something we can control) and our rotting biomass or old sedimentary humus going back centuries.

    So, there are two risks (gas which is pipe and not) which do seem to be conflated rather cleverly or accidentally.

    There is another source of natural gas which would show up as piped gas, and that is natural seeps from below. The ground conditions are such that it is quite easy for natural-natural gas to emerge all the time from beneath the city. I was raised in an area where natural gas seeps are everywhere.

    The main mental block people seem to have is the idea that natural gas is from ‘down there in a pocket’ sealed forever. In fact natural gas forms endothermically anywhere below 30 km depth from the heat and pressure and raw materials found there. It seeps up all over the show. Offshore (Easter US) there are huge reserves of natural gas which sometimes burp into the water.

    So it would be, as a comparison, good to survey a nearby region where it is know there are no pipelines at all to see how many ‘leaks’ show up.

    Oh, and the GHG forcing from that leaking methane is so far below trivial in consequence I assume the reference is put there merely to get brownie points from fanatical referees. Atmospheric methane concentration is microscopic and its effect, trivial.

  38. @Gail Combs

    I agree there is some meaningless alarmism in the piece, but that is de rigeur as you know.

    My take on the ‘against pipelines’ thing is different. I think it is a statement supporting huge infrastructure investment in the pipeline sector – all those people using gas are not going to give it up. The point is they will insist on really thick pipes and expensive safety measures which raises the cost of gas permanently but benefits the pipeline people financially. In fact the gas pipeline infrastructure is incredibly safe.

    One must always consider when hearing about this sort of ‘issue’ is that the nuclear industry in the USA demanded the most ridiculously expensive possible method of concentrating fuel, generating electricity and handling and burying spend fuel elements. The reason was that nuclear power stations using the cheapest and least dangerous methods would create electricity very cheaply. So if people are already willing to pay x for a kWh, why not increase the cost of the station until the people are paying the same amount?

    The result, pressurized light water breeder reactors, brings problems home to roost: Fukushima. They are inherently dangerous so they need extremely high cost solutions to ‘contain the risk’.

    If the gas industry could get a similar meme going about piped gas, which they know full well no one is going to give up, they can increase the delivered price 5 fold without having to find anything or develop new customers. It is not money for nothing, it is money for something that is not needed. Sounds rather like the CO2 industry.

  39. Crispin in Waterloo says: ….It is not money for nothing, it is money for something that is not needed….
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Actually it is Frederic Bastiat’s Broken Window Fallacy

    A comment on the article which addresses Bastiat in light of todays economy.

    Bastiat talks of the destruction of “wealth’ that is the window and the Keynesians talk about the increase in employment. From a government’s point of view destruction of property (wealth) that causes more employment to replace the destroyed wealth is good because the government TAXES the flow of money between people (measured as GDP) and not the wealth they have accumulated in durable goods. From a corporate point of view you want built in obsolescence because you make your profit every time an item is replaced so the more the better. It is only the individual and the community as a whole who gets shafted when the window is intentionally broken, something the US government is hellbent on doing to our energy industry.

    Also note that GDP is a measure of the number of times money changes hands including all salaries to bureaucrats. It is NOT a measure of the real wealth of a nation.

  40. I want to see an overlay depicting the homes and work places of Washington city officials, US government employees, Senators, Representatives and the White House. I believe there will be strong correlation.

  41. Note the mental dysfunction of equating the “greenhouse effect” of methane w/the potential of a methane explosion….

  42. Two things to relate here:

    I heard a report a few years back (forgot source) regarding propane use in Mexico City. A large percentage of households use propane (tanks next to house) for cooking and hot water. The report said only about half of the delivered propane actually is used for the intended purposes–the rest leaks into the air. It seems that when the propane suppliers install the tanks and piping, they intentionally leave fittings loose to create leaks. This allows them to sell more propane and increase their profits.

    On another note, I used to work for a large technology consulting company. The company was approached by the American Gas Institute to develop a way to detect corrosion and cracks in underground gas mains. After a year-long research effort, we developed a device to be attached to a “pig” and pulled through gas mains. Using AC magnetic fields and sensitive magnetic detectors, the device could accurately measure pipe wall thickness with a spatial resolution of ~1mm. Cracks and corroded areas showed up very clearly in computer generated plots.

    The AGI was very pleased with our results. They approached the gas utility companies to show them the great technology we had developed. The utilities replied “thanks but no thanks.” It seems that they were not interested in detecting faults in gas mains prior to catastrophic failure. That would only make more work for them (replacing mains that close to failure, or had acceptable leak rates). They preferred to address leaking mains only after catastrophic failure, or when the leak rate became so high as to be a hazard.

    Needless to say, that was the end of that research project.

  43. @RichardSCourtney

    … Repair of gas leaks too small to cause hazard is only warranted if the value of leaked gas is more than the cost of repairing the leaks…

    Mr Courtney is quite correct to draw attention to the cost/benefit analysis required when performing any activity. The same principle is, of course, true in many other areas – the distribution of water, for instance.

    Water is a critical requirement for life, and should be readily available wherever Man has established habitations. It is processed in a cycle, so can never be used up, and therefore need not be ‘saved’ in any sense. Leaks, for instance, fall straight back into the aquifer, so there is no ‘loss’ of water in any sense.

    Nevertheless, it is a standard requirement of green politics that ALL resources be short, and consequently require saving. Water is no different – UK citizens are required to reduce their H2O intake by 30% by an EU directive, and the UK government has enforced this by the simple procedure of not building any new reservoirs. Water is to made scarce and raised in price, so that it can be ‘saved’.

    This has caused an interesting problem. You have to artificially ‘raise’ the price of water in order to save it – no one ‘saves’ cheap items. But raising the nominal price of water causes the cost/benefit ratio of pipe repairs to change as well – it becomes ‘economic’ to repair the slightest leak, and water companies are forced to set up ‘rapid-response’ leak repair teams.

    Only it isn’t really economic to do this. But that doesn’t matter, because spending money inefficiently in this way bumps the price of water up. Which was what had been ordered to happen in the first place. So everyone is happy. Except the consumers…

    Make that ‘everyone who matters’ is happy….

  44. Explosions occur when an air-gas mixture in a confined space is ignited. Why that happens is well known. However in an open atmosphere, there is nothing confining the expanding burning gas mixture, so an explosion cannot occur. So what will happen will be a gas flame, expanding rapidly, according to the quantity of gas in the mix. After the first flame, if it didn’t self extinguish, there is a probability that the flame will settle onto the place of the original gas leakage, and safely burn away, acting like a pilot light. Obviously naked flames are to be avoided in a gas-rich environment. it would be interesting to be told how exactly the quantities of escaping gas were measured. bearing in mind that the leaks will be variously from such things as gaskets, pinholes, cracks, corrosion pittings and so on. However, measuring an accurate gas flow quantity from any of these leakages would be next to impossible.

  45. To Gail Combs

    You wrote @6:11 PM:

    “I am surprised something hasn’t blown before this. Think lit cigarettes tossed down street drains….”

    It has! A number of times in the past 15 or so years, there have been
    explosions within the Washington, DC sewers. Largely, the result is
    manhole covers flipped into the air like tiddlywinks. See, for example:

    http://goodspeedupdate.com/2007/2092

  46. Somebody better start spraying Washington D.C. with chlorox to oxidize that methane, Right Away!!!
    High levels of molecular chlorine found in Arctic atmosphere
    Posted on January 15, 2014 by Anthony Watts

  47. There’s a theory that seepage of geological sources of methane, subsequently oxidized into CO2 and water, are the main reason Earth still has a wet biosphere. The photodissociation of H2O in the upper atmosphere and subsequent loss of hydrogen to outer space is sufficient over geological time to have dried the planet many times over. Only the replenishment of H2 from methane prevents it.

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