Aging underground natural gas pipes can be dangerous. Now, a new study has found they are also bad for the environment and costly for consumers, according to a recent article by CBS News.

“Focusing their attention on Boston, a group of Harvard researchers writing in current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that $90 million worth of natural gas, 15 billion cubic feet, escapes from its network of aging cast iron pipes each year,” the article states.

The study is part of a growing effort to examine the role that cities play in methane emissions and should have implications for other aging cities especially in the Northeast that rely on natural gas for a significant and increasing portion of their energy needs, the article states.

“There’s been a lot of interest in controlling methane emissions, but emissions from the distribution and use side of the natural gas system have been almost absent from the recent national policy conversation,” said Harvard graduate student Kathryn McKain told CBS.

Last year, Google teamed up with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to unveil a series of interactive maps allowing users to track natural gas leaks beneath the streets of Boston, Indianapolis and Staten Island, the article states. The goal was to better understand potential hazards as well as the environmental impact of these chronic, low level leaks.

“And much like the current study, the maps found the older cities had the worst leaks,” CBS reported. “Boston, for example, had a leak for every mile driven while the newer systems in Indianapolis showed a leak for every 200 miles. Leak rates in Boston and Staten Island were similar.”

A report on the study by the EDF notes that the reported emissions in Boston are more than two times higher than previously estimated using state emissions inventory data, with a yearly average loss rate from delivery and use of natural gas in the Boston urban region of 2.7 percent. “That’s enough natural gas to fuel about 200,000 homes each year,” the article states.

“Methane emissions are bad for the environment,” EDF wrote. “But they are also bad for customers. Natural gas emissions in the urban environment mean that some of the natural gas purchased to meet customer needs does not serve a useful purpose; it is lost either on the way to being delivered or in the process of getting burned. Imagine a tanker truck full of home heating oil driving down the street, with a spigot that isn’t tightly closed, then delivering to a home with a leaky holding tank, you get the idea.”

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