The natural gas explosion in Harlem that killed six and injured at least a dozen others underscores the risks from leaking natural gas pipelines. The blast was so violent that it reportedly catapulted people out their windows. Natural gas (methane) not only poses an explosion risk, it is one of the worst greenhouse gases (34 times more potent than CO2). Recent research indicates that it is leaking from pipelines at a much higher rate than previously thought.
In Washington DC alone almost 6000 natural gas leaks were found in only 1,500 miles of pipe. That’s roughly four leaks every mile. Other cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, have higher-than-average rates of “unaccounted for” gas. A 2012 study of Boston found 3,356 leaks under the city’s streets.
A very significant amount of methane is released in the extraction process and as it is shipped through pipes. About 50 percent more of the greenhouse gas methane has been seeping into the atmosphere than previously thought, according to far-reaching findings that synthesize two decades’ worth of methane studies in North America. The study is titled “Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems.”
The method of extracting natural gas is known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” (the process of extracting shale gas from deep underground). Fracking releases 30 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional drilling and it uses large quantities of water in addition to contaminating
American Society of Civil Engineers, in its latest Infrastructure Report
Card, recently gave the country a D+ on energy infrastructure
Between 1984 and 2013 the damage caused by leaking and unsafe gas pipelines cost governments across the country more than $450 million. There have been some devastating explosions associated with leaking natural gas pipeline. A few years ago in San Bruno, California a pipeline explosion killed eight people and wounded dozens of others.
In 2011, another natural gas explosion in a residential neighborhood in Allentown, Pennsylvania, killed five people.
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