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Thousands of Natural Gas Leaks Found In Boston 179

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept.
poofmeisterp writes "Due to old cast iron underground pipelines, natural gas leaks run amok in Boston, MA. '"While our study was not intended to assess explosion risks, we came across six locations in Boston where gas concentrations exceeded the threshold above which explosions can occur," Nathan Phillips, associate professor at BU, said in a statement.' With 'a device to measure methane' in a vehicle equipped with GPS, Duke and Boston University researchers created a nice little map showing the methane levels in parts per million at different points in the city. 'Repairing these leaks will improve air quality, increase consumer health and safety, and save money,' study researcher Robert B. Jackson, of Duke, said in a statement. 'We just have to put the right financial incentives into place.' It looks like money is an issue. Imagine that."
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Thousands of Natural Gas Leaks Found In Boston

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  • by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:55PM (#42059189)

    I'm not sure how things work in Boston, but in areas where gas is provided by a regulated public utility, there is little cost to the company for infrastructure improvements. They identify infrastructure that needs to be replaced/upgraded, go to the PUC with the list of improvements and petition for a rate increase to pay for them. Then, in theory, the company is supposed to make the improvements, but that doesn't always happen, PG&E in California has been known to ask for money for specific improvements, then spending the money on other things.

  • by onkelonkel (560274) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @04:30PM (#42059575)
    My personal favorite version of this is "Even if it only saves one life, it will be worth it" usually uttered by some will intentioned lackwit who wants you or the government to spend a huge sum of money to fix some minor safety issue. The proper answer to this is "You are an idiot. If we spend that money on we can save many more lives. Why should all those people die so you can maybe save that one person"
  • hang on (Score:4, Informative)

    by viperidaenz (2515578) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @05:10PM (#42059957)
    They have a pretty picture showing huge peaks of up to 28.6ppm methane.

    Methane is only flammable in air between 50,000ppm and 150,000ppm
  • by Worthless_Comments (987427) <anphillia@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @05:38PM (#42060233)
    You can tell you're not a sleazy CEO. You raise rates to cover the cost of the leak, fix the leak anyway, and then leave the higher rates in place to profit even after you've made up your loss.
  • by tacokill (531275) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @06:16PM (#42060695)
    No, they are not pure methane. The DOT requires gas companies to put methyl mercaptan (mentioned above) in the gas stream specifically so we can smell leaks. As far as I know, all natural gas that is distributed in the US has mercaptans. If you've smelled "natural gas", propane, or butane, you are smelling the mercaptans as those gases are odorless.

    Natty gas with H2S in it (aka: sour gas) smells like rotten eggs. However, at around 100ppm, you quit smelling it and you start dying instead. At 1000 ppm, one inhalation and you are dead.
  • by Diamonddavej (851495) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @07:28PM (#42061481)

    In the 1980s, Dublin gas network had 100s km of cast iron pipes, some 100 years old. The cast iron pipes were connected together by waxed joints, these joints were stable when moist Town Gas (coal gas) flowed through the pipes but when the city changed over to natural gas, which is dry, the wax dried out and the gas leaked. Town Gas was generated by passing superheated steam over coal, creating a gas containing hydrogen, methane and notoriously, carbon monoxide.

    In the late 1980s I could not walk more than 100 feet along suburban street before coming across an overpowering stench of leaking gas. One of the temporary fixes was to drill holes into side-walks to reduce the concentration of gas underground. I don't remember any gas explosions or accidents caused by leaking cast iron pipes then the leaks happened, given the number of leaks we were very lucky.

    By the way, almost half of the water supply in Dublin in lost through leaks (worst in Europe).

  • Re:hang on (Score:5, Informative)

    by reboot246 (623534) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @08:40PM (#42062035) Homepage
    I've spent 36 years now as a natural gas leakage technician. I "know" gas leaks.

    The flame ionization instrument I use detects gas in ppm from 0 - 10,000. I can assure you that even when I get a reading of only 28 or 100 or 500 ppm at the ground, the leak at its source is bigger. You can't classify leaks the way these dudes were doing it. You have to punch a hole in the ground and use a combustible gas indicator to measure the gas in air percentage near the pipe.

    There is an explosive limit like you say, roughly 5% to 15% gas in air. Anything under or above that that won't burn or explode. There is danger when a structure fills up with gas and a danger when the gas is being ventilated. During the increase and the decrease the concentration passes through that explosive range.

    You won't always smell the odor. Something as simple as wet soil can leech the odor out of gas. Personally, I love the smell - it smells like $$$$.

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