Using data to keep methane in pipelines

Protecting environmental and consumer interests, while maintaining safe and reliable natural gas service.

We’re advocating for utilities to use cutting-edge leak detection and quantification methods as part of leak repair and pipe replacement programs, so the largest leaks or leakiest pipeline segments can be identified and addressed first, after considering safety factors. We are also advocating for greater transparency in utilities’ leak detection efforts and more frequent leak surveys to ensure that methane remains where it belongs – in our gas pipelines.

Policymakers are increasingly looking at the millions of tons of methane escaping across the oil and natural gas supply chain as both a significant climate problem, and a major opportunity to quickly achieve big greenhouse gas and ratepayer savings.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, local distribution system emissions dropped dramatically from 2013 to 2014 (from 20% to 6% of total natural gas system emissions, respectively), thanks in part to an increase in the replacement of leak-prone pipes with plastic piping, which is less leak prone. Still, nearly 68,000 miles of leak-prone pipe are in use nationwide, representing an achievable opportunity to reduce methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain.

Pioneering methods

There is a new way for utilities to better track leak-prone pipelines, and ensure that leak repair and pipeline replacement is economically and environmentally efficient.

Combining spatial analytics, advanced leak detection technology and pioneering leak quantification methods like the one EDF is deploying, utilities can now generate data on the relative flow rate of leaks (i.e. volume of gas emitted over time). Thanks to these new methods, utilities can identify and fix the biggest leaks first and address the leakiest segments of their infrastructure as part of pipeline replacement efforts, after considering safety factors. In combination with traditional leak survey methods, utilities can use leak quantification methods to find and reduce methane emissions and save more product than would otherwise be possible, generating the biggest bang for the buck. Natural gas utilities across the country are adopting these new technologies and methods, but there is room for progress at a broader scale across the industry.

Progress

  • New Jersey’s largest utility, Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) has used leak quantification data to find and fix some of the biggest leaks in the PSE&G system.
  • EDF has collaborated with several utilities across the U.S. to map and quantify leaks in their systems, demonstrating the viability of state-of-the-art leak detection and leak quantification methods.
  • Leading utilities are becoming more transparent about their leak management efforts with customers and utility commissions. For example, Consolidated Edison of New York is already publishing dynamic leak maps on their website.