A street-by-street survey of the District of Columbia has found nearly 6,000 natural gas leaks in the city’s aging pipes. A dozen of those leaks were found beneath manholes, where methane has accumulated to potentially explosive levels. Even after warning Washington Gas of the dangerous levels in those locations, retesting four months later revealed 8 of the 12 locations were still at potentially dangerous concentrations.
Image © Glyn Lowe
Throughout the city, locations near leaks tested positive for levels of gas many times what would be found in the environment. While most of these leaks disperse quickly into the air and pose no threat to human health, the same can’t be said for the environment — or for consumers’ wallets. The gas emissions are not only leaking into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change, they’re also resulting in inflated charges for residents who use the utility.
Unfortunately, these leaks are not a new problem. In 2000 and 2003, explosions in Georgetown and other parts of the city sent manhole covers flying through the air. While there were no injuries as a result, it cost $30 million to upgrade infrastructure in the affected areas. Gas lines aren’t the only pipes in the District that are having trouble with leaks, either; the city and its suburbs are plagued by aging water mains which have been known to rupture during cold weather, resulting in outages.
Many older cities struggle with the same issue of aging pipes, from Boston to locations as far-flung as Rio de Janeiro. In the US alone, natural gas pipeline failures cause an average of 17 fatalities and $133 million in property damage every year. While the District’s Public Service Commission claims that it’s ordered Washington Gas to aggressively replace cast-iron mains and pipe couplings, it’s clear from these findings that there remains much work to be done to bring the city up to modern standards.
Lead image © ThatMakesThree