(PITTSBURGH, PA – January 8, 2019) Peoples Gas is committing to cut methane emissions from its Pittsburgh distribution system by 50 percent using advanced leak detection methods developed in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund and Google Earth Outreach to map and measure leaks coming from underground pipes. Peoples will use the data to prioritize upgrades to achieve the greatest climate benefits as quickly as possible. The pledge is the first of its kind by a U.S. utility.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with over 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years it is in the atmosphere. It is also the main ingredient in natural gas. Reducing methane leaks has been a priority for County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and aligns with Gov. Tom Wolf’s efforts to ensure that Pennsylvania’s oil and gas sector is safer, cleaner and more competitive.
Concrete, meaningful reductions in methane emissions will help the Steel City achieve the ambitious climate action goals set by Mayor William Peduto in its Climate Action Plan 3.0, adopted in May 2018.
“Cities, states and forward thinking companies are leading the fight against global warming. Scientists tell us we urgently need to accelerate our actions to prevent catastrophic changes in our climate,” said EDF President Fred Krupp. “Peoples Gas, the city of Pittsburgh and the state of Pennsylvania’s embrace of new technologies and smarter strategies to tackle the climate challenge is a bold example for others to follow.”
Under a new commitment announced today, Peoples and EDF will use highly sensitive leak detection sensors and advanced data analytics developed in partnership with Google and scientists at Colorado State University (CSU) that make it possible to quantify leaks from aging underground pipes quickly and cost-effectively. About 46 percent of the pipes operated by Peoples are more than 50 years old.
“This new commitment is supportive of our multibillion-dollar pipeline modernization and methane mitigation program,” said Peoples CEO Morgan O’Brien. “As a company and as a partner to the city of Pittsburgh, we are committed to climate action. We embrace cutting edge technology and are creating a culture that prioritizes and takes ownership of our role in making this region better for generations to come.”
Advanced leak detection enhances safety benefits, climate action
Leaks will be mapped throughout 2019 using a laser-based methane analyzer installed on a Peoples survey vehicle. With that information, scientists at CSU will use a peer-reviewed algorithm to quantify the volume of methane emissions from each leak so that Peoples can focus their system upgrades on the largest leaks and those where investment brings the greatest safety and environmental benefit.
“Pennsylvania is committed to doing its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we applaud Peoples Gas, Environmental Defense Fund and the city of Pittsburgh for their leadership in helping achieve our goals,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “This collaboration is a triple win, showing that stakeholders can come together to identify cost-effective solutions to reduce emissions, improve safety and save money.”
Advanced leak detection strategies like those pioneered in Pittsburgh via the Peoples-EDF collaboration are increasingly being adopted by leading utilities around the country to find and fix methane leaks. This approach improves climate benefits, enhances system safety and saves ratepayers money.
“The energy industry and the development of energy is an important part of this region’s growth, but it has to be done in a responsible way so that public health and the environment are protected,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “I applaud today’s announcement by Peoples and EDF, and hope this is the first of many steps being taken by the energy industry to keep our region at the forefront of energy production in a responsible and thoughtful way.”
EDF’s engagement with Peoples is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies through the America’s Pledge initiative. Acting on the 10 high-impact opportunity areas identified in its America’s Pledge report, including methane leak detection and repair, Bloomberg Philanthropies is investing in pilot efforts such as EDF’s work in Pittsburgh, along with programs to curb super-polluting gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and initiatives to spur the market for electric vehicles.
“Stopping methane leaks is a great example of how steps that fight climate change also strengthen the economy and save consumers money,” said Michael R. Bloomberg UN Special envoy for climate action. “Through America’s Pledge, cities and businesses are keeping our country moving forward on climate change even while Washington tries to drag us backwards, and Pittsburgh is helping to lead the way.”
Next steps in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are among leading U.S. cities to pledge support for climate action in the wake of the federal government’s decision to step away from the Paris Climate Accord. Gov. Wolf is similarly taking a lead role among major gas producing states, establishing new controls to reduce emissions of methane from new and modified natural gas infrastructure as well as recently proposing rules to address emissions and leaks of methane from the thousands of existing sources of natural gas wells, pipelines and infrastructure in Pennsylvania.
“Methane leaks not only waste a valuable natural resource, they greatly exacerbate climate change,” said Mayor Peduto. “With new tools available to address this climate challenge head-on, it is our responsibility to act to protect our citizens and communities. Today, we see Peoples Gas leading the way, and for that the people of Pittsburgh should cheer. It is our hope that the initiative shown by Peoples will be echoed across our state and beyond.”
Other advocates echoed the sentiment.
“The partnership between Peoples and EDF is another critical step in ensuring that Pennsylvania continues on the path of reducing methane emissions and moving toward our goals for deep decarbonization,” said Davitt Woodwell, president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.
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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and our Energy Exchange blog.
About America’s Pledge In the wake of the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement, an unprecedented number of U.S. cities, states, businesses and universities have reaffirmed their commitment to helping America reach its Paris climate goals. Whether through declarations like We Are Still In or new pledges and commitments of their own, these non-national actors are maintaining U.S. momentum on climate action in the absence of federal leadership. In July 2017, former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and California Gov. Jerry Brown launched the America’s Pledge initiative, which seeks to aggregate and quantify the actions of states, cities and businesses and other non-national actors in the United States to drive down their greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.