Nearly 250 Methane Gas Leaks Under Streets in L.A.

Methane gas leaks are one of the many problems of modern cities and one of the unknown dangers that we face every day. Exposure to high levels of methane gas leads to headaches and depletes the oxygen levels in the body, causing difficulty in breathing and suffocation. If the oxygen level in the body is less than 12% the person becomes unconscious. These leaks are usually reported on and fixed. However, more insidious leaks can go on for months and even years without being discovered and hold an entirely different sort of danger-the release of methane gas into the atmosphere. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and about 25% of man-made global warming is caused by methane emissions. Methane gas is far worse than carbon dioxide in terms of environmental effects but it is central to the oil and gas industry as it provides energy for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Older pipes that go decades without renovation tend to leak and those leaks allow methane gas into the atmosphere. These leaking pipes are found all over America from Boston to L.A. and have been notoriously difficult to find and fix. For years, a multitude of organizations have lobbied gas companies to search and fix these leaks but an efficient method of finding them was not available.

However, researchers from a variety of environmental organizations have attached air monitoring equipment to cars and have managed to find leaks all over the United States and more recently researchers from the Environmental Defense Fund attached real-time air monitoring equipment to a Google Street View mapping car that drove for more than 1,000 miles in the greater L.A. region. Partnered with scientists from Colorado State University, they plotted 250 methane gas leaks and reported on the results. For those at the Environmental Defense Fund, the methane gas leaks are a huge obstacle to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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