Natural gas leaks threaten public safety and the environment, and Google is now assisting the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in tracking the location and size of natural gas leaks, according to a recent Washington Post article.

“The EDF issued interactive maps on Wednesday that will pinpoint the size and location of thousands of natural gas leaks from distribution pipes that lie below Boston, Indianapolis and Staten Island, data collected by using three specially equipped Google Street View cars that took measurements every half second,” the article states.

The study with Google is one of a series of 16 projects that EDF is conducting to figure out just how much natural gas is leaking all along the supply chain, from shale gas wells drilled with hydraulic fracturing to processing plants, pipelines, commercial vehicles, and homes, according to the article. “The results are critical because natural gas, or methane, is a potent greenhouse gas, with about 120 times the effect of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period,” the article states. “Many supporters of the shale gas boom have argued that natural gas emits about half the carbon dioxide as coal plants do in the combustion process, but even small quantities of natural gas leaks could erase that advantage.”

EDF's chief scientist Steve Hamburg told the Post that the organization hopes to team with Google to map the location of other pollutants, including carbon dioxide and other emissions from coal and natural gas plants. “This is the beginning of an important transition in how we collect data,” said Hamburg. “It’s about the democratization of data, giving people the data to understand their environment in a different way.”

National Grid’s natural gas network in Massachusetts has 2,194 miles of cast iron pipe and 1,441 miles of steel lacking rust protection that will take 26 years to replace, according to the Post.

To read the Washington Post article, click here.