Scientists Discover 50 Methane Leaks in City of Hamburg's Gas Utility Network

Study shows urban gas leaks are a climate problem in Europe with a clear technology solution

December 4, 2020
Julian Vetten, +49 (1577) 47 283 87, vetten@ostwä
Lauren Whittenberg, +1 (512) 691-3437,

(HAMBURG – 7 December 2020) Prevalent methane emissions are not isolated to distant oil and gas producing countries, they are traceable right to our doorstep: In Hamburg alone, 50 to 80% of methane emissions stem from leaky gas pipelines, according to a new study led by Utrecht University under the auspices of the U.N. Environment Programme with scientific support from the Environmental Defense Fund, a leading global nonprofit and expert on methane emissions.

Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas responsible for at least 25% of global warming. It is also the main ingredient in natural gas. Numerous studies analyzing methane leaks from gas distribution systems in cities across the United States, Canada — and now Europe — show gas pipelines can be a significant source of emissions. Gathering measured data is essential for getting a clearer picture of emissions as official inventories often underestimate the problem.

“We discovered increased methane concentrations at 145 points in the Hamburg city area, 50 of which are due to gas utility leaks,” said EDF scientist and co-author Dr. Stefan Schwietzke. “In total, the Hamburg gas network released about 286 tonnes of methane emissions into the atmosphere causing the same short-term climate damage of 1,000 cars on the road each year.”

This is a status quo, however, that can be changed as Schwietzke explains: “The specially designed vehicle-mounted mobile monitors detected methane leaks much more effectively than conventional sniffers. Gas utilities that modernize their leak maintenance practices with these vehicles can both protect the climate and improve the safety of the gas network.” Gasnetz Hamburg, the local utility, has already recognized this opportunity and is cooperating with EDF and partners on a follow-up study to test ways to implement this new monitoring technology.

Supplementing the Hamburg study results with further measurements in other cities can help draw a more complete picture of Europe’s methane emissions that come from the vast network of gas pipelines under city streets. Corresponding studies are already underway in a dozen European cities — from London to Paris to Bucharest, which will provide valuable data to fill in gaps identified by the EU Methane Strategy and increase reduction opportunities in the Union.


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