Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Earth News

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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Thousands of Natural Gas Leaks Found In Boston

Comments Filter:
  • by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @02:55PM (#42059185) Homepage Journal

    I'm sorry, but money is always an issue for literally everything. We live in a world of finite workers and resources, and thus the abstraction of that, which we call money, is an important limiting factor on any task, no matter what the risk or rewards. The amusing irony is that treating money like its not a factor makes money more of a factor, by causing the limitations to appear at unexpected times.

    • by jhoegl (638955) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:03PM (#42059297)
      Finite eh?
      1.6 mil workers in USA not employed.
      Plastic/Steel/Copper pipes. I think Steel and Copper can be recycled.
      Cost is valued based on revenue generated, not based on "Finite resources".
      • In an immediate sense, which is part of why money is an abstraction rather than a literal stand-in. I'm not advocating neo-liberalism here, I'm just saying every choice to do something is an implicit choice to not do quite as much of something else.

      • by Baloroth (2370816)

        Those workers aren't employed because there aren't enough businesses with unfilled jobs to employ them. In turn, there aren't enough employers because there aren't enough people buying stuff, because people don't have enough money. So yeah, money is still the limiting factor.

        And guess what it takes to recycle steel and copper? Time and resources (i.e. money).

        • by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@cGINSBERGarpanet.net minus poet> on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:48PM (#42059771) Homepage

          > Those workers aren't employed because there aren't enough businesses with unfilled jobs to employ them.

          or.....

          Those workers aren't employed because there aren't enough businesses with unfilled jobs, that they are qualified to be employed in.

          There might, in fact, be plenty of jobs for people willing to learn how to work with steel and copper, but, in case you haven't noticed, picking up those skills isn't exactly high on most people's todo list.

          Or as I said to someone the other day.... a college degree is great, but, a high tech manufacturing sector isn't going to keep its machines running, much less set them up and use them, on what you learned getting your MBA or history degree.

          While its true, we need generic businessmen, and accountants, historians, and even telephone sanitizers; can we possibly admit that we have too many people aspiring to be on the "third ship" so to speak.

          • .... a college degree is great, but, a high tech manufacturing sector isn't going to keep its machines running, much less set them up and use them, on what you learned getting your MBA or history degree. While its true, we need generic businessmen, and accountants, historians, and even telephone sanitizers; can we possibly admit that we have too many people aspiring to be on the "third ship" so to speak.

            There is a common misconception that MBAs are all about accounting and finance, its not true. Unlike other master's degrees where one goes deeper into some particular field, an MBA is more of a survey of all the parts of an organization (accounting/finance, strategy, marketing, information technology, product development, project management, operations/manufacturing, law, ...) plus some outside forces that will affect it (macroeconomics, human behavior - consumer, employee and leadership), ... Those enteri

        • by sjames (1099)

          It means we're working some people harder than we should and throwing others to the wolves for no good reason (and daddy needs that third yacht is NOT a good reason).

          We have time and we have resources. They're just being malinvested in the lifestyles of the rich and shameless.

        • And guess what it takes to recycle steel and copper? Time and resources (i.e. money).

          Nope, it doesn't cost the company a damn thing. My grandfather spent decades tearing up old natural gas pipelines and replacing them. The sweetest words he every heard from the company came when he asked what to do with the old pipes. They were told "the company does not want them, give them to whoever will take them". My grandfather, his company crew and the local subcontractors who assisted on these pipeline replacement jobs took the pipes to the scrap yard (metal recycler) and split the proceeds. Local c

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      We live in a world of finite workers and resources, and thus the abstraction of that, which we call money, is an important limiting factor on any task, no matter what the risk or rewards.

      I would disagree.
      The problem is that the utility's liability is not high enough to motivate them to spend money fixing the problems.

      As a thought experiment: Imagine that the city told the gas utility that there are going to be fines of $1 million per leak (for >3,300 leaks).
      Suddenly, the limiting factor is time and labor, not money, because fixing the problem is cheaper than paying the fines.

      • So, what you're saying is that money is not a factor when money is made into a factor? Color me confused.

      • by sumdumass (711423)

        I think a better thought experiment would be the city removing obstacles in the utility's way making it cheaper for them to repair the leaks. For instance, why does it cost 1.5 mil to dig a hole and patch a pipe? If it is labor, suspend the minimum and/or prevailing wage requirements on those specific projects, perhaps lax some of the training requirements for the portions of the job that doesn't involve safety sensitive operations. Don't require the entire pipeline to be upgraded and allow just the portion

        • Because when playing with utilities, you don't get what you don't pay for. Only psychotics think the answer to every problem is lower wages for those actually engaged in touch labor.
          • by sumdumass (711423)

            I think you get exactly what you pay for with utilities. They are highly regulated. As for psychotics, I believe your more of the problem then the solution. Wages weren't the only thing mentioned. Lower wages might not even be needed as part of the solution. But keep deluding yourself into thinking it's everything.

            • No you get a great deal less than you pay for. Just because there is government, doesn't mean it is good government.
              • by sumdumass (711423)

                I don't think so. The rates and services are generally known and regulated before you purchase them and the accounting is pretty accurate. It's not like you are going to be getting 60 volts instead of 120 or naphthalene instead of propane or natural gas.

                Unless you are trying to say the utilities are generally over priced. Then I would agree.

        • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

          by geekoid (135745)

          "why does it cost 1.5 mil to dig a hole and patch a pipe?"
          engineering, laying pipe, testing remove old pipe properly putting the street back together all costs money.
          It isn't 1.5 million to " dig a hole and patch a pipe"

          Anyways, there are a lot of reason why ti's expensive. Mostly your ignorance on what it takes do do this work and keep a city running.
          I suggest you study civil engineering. You come up with a better way that works, you will be rich.

          Or do you thinking the utilities should just be able to dig

          • by sumdumass (711423)

            Anyways, there are a lot of reason why ti's expensive. Mostly your ignorance on what it takes do do this work and keep a city running.
            I suggest you study civil engineering. You come up with a better way that works, you will be rich.

            Lol.. I don't have to study civil engineering to ask the fucking question. How stupid is that- requiring someone to be an expert to ask a question is ridiculous. So you are saying that nothing, absolutely nothing can be done to lower the costs of digging a hole that was already d

            • It's a good question and, without doing any more research than having lived near Boston for 50 years, I'll say it's because Boston is a clusterfuck (Hub of the Universe. is what they tell us).

              Just take a look at the Big Dig project and you'll understand. Boston has its charm but it has always been, and will always be, a civil engineering nightmare.

            • So you are saying that nothing, absolutely nothing can be done to lower the costs of digging a hole that was already dug once before and patching or replacing a pipe that was already laid in the hole at some point in time where all the engineering and studies were already done at one time. I say hogwash. Some thing could be done if they wanted to that could reduce the costs of maintaining the pipes.

              My grandfather spent decades (1950s-70s) replacing the sort of pipes described, old cast iron gas lines. These lines were probably installed around 1900. The lines were not necessarily well documented back in those days. Plus some documentation from 100 years ago probably got lost, especially if the work was originally done by a private company. Also in the 100 years since the original installation other things may have been installed over these lines. In certain areas it was common for my grandfather (repr

    • by sjames (1099) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @04:29PM (#42060153) Homepage

      We always manage to find money for war (including the war on some drugs) and the TSA.

      Unlike those, fixing the leaks would have a quantifiable benefit in addition to the more difficult to quantify safety improvements.

      I would suggest spinning it as a potential terrorist threat, but fear the 'solution' would be DHS patrolling the streets confiscating lighters.

      • That's a different argument. I agree that there is misallocation of resources, but to say "money doesn't matter" is sticking one's head in the sand.

        • Money doesn't matter is, in fact, a truth of economics. Resources matter. If money matters, then the issue is individuals extracting rents.
          • Yep, it's not like "supply and demand" is a concept firmly rooted in strictly abstract price points.

    • We live in a world of immense slack capacity and profit push inflation.
  • by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @02:55PM (#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.

    • Do the magic gas fairies provide the money? Because otherwise, it's an issue. Just where do you think the PUC or the Commonwealth of Mass. analog is going to get that money they give to the gas company? Have you noticed how broke and dysfunctional your state and its budget are?

    • by pla (258480)
      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.

      Natural gas occupies a somewhat unusual market position for a "utility", where it can actually compete purely on price against its competition. Currently, you see people changing over en masse because they can cut their winter heating bill in half. If that advantage were less dramatic (or even nonexistent), natural gas would all but vanish overnig
    • by Xtifr (1323)

      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.

      Just because their mechanism for getting funds is unusual doesn't mean there's little cost.

      In fact, it's worse than that. The company's income is held hostage by local government, and if that government is controlled by short-sighted fiscal conservatives who equate rate hikes with higher taxes, then people's lives can be put at danger. Those who believe in "no new taxes" no matter what put us all in danger!

      PG&E in California has been known to ask for money for specific improvements, then spending the money on other things.

      Which has recently led to things like an explosion [wikipedia.org] that destroyed nearly 40 houses in a suburban neigh

      • If the utilities were really strapped for cash, their cash holdings would be small, but they aren't. Politicians have every reason to be nice to utilities.
    • by perpenso (1613749)

      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, ...

      My grandfather worked for such a regulated public gas utility in the north east and that is how it worked. The cast iron pipes described in Boston sound like the gas lines he dug up and replaced in the 1950s-70s. They were originally installed around 1900. Such cast iron gas lines were considered troublesome and dangerous many decades ago.

  • We are all motivated by rewards and penalties. Money is just the convertible currency for this.

    Once the insurance industry gets hold of the map, money will see the fixes are made.

    • We are all motivated by rewards and penalties. Money is just the convertible currency for this.

      Once the insurance industry gets hold of the map, money will see the fixes are made.

      Nonsense. These are parts per million leaks for the most part. Not necessarily dangerous. How many streets or buildings have mysteriously blown up over the past several decades?

      • http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/14/us-boston-fire-idUSBRE82D0DS20120314 [reuters.com]

        Nstar has a less than stellar record with maintain the metal.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Not a lot, and that's do yo infrastructure spending.
        But has infrastructure spending decline in lieu of bonuses, you will see more.*
        This example in Boston was a lucky break,. Becasue of they are loosing that much gas, and the utilities haven't don't anything about it, then they aren't likely to have done anything anytime soon. Or maybe they where just getting ready to fix them.

        *as opposed as paddle balls in lieu of pay. (Thanks Mel books!)

  • Beantown (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Are they sure it isn't just the beans?

    • by Grayhand (2610049)

      Are they sure it isn't just the beans?

      One match and the place could go up like Hiroshima and Nagasaki

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:03PM (#42059289) Homepage

    I'm thinking he can expect a visit from Homeland Security on this one -- now the terrorists know how to blow up Boston. :-P

  • by ZeroSerenity (923363) <gormac05.yahoo@com> on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:04PM (#42059309) Homepage Journal
    What? Is that not enough of an incentive? If it goes into the air, you cannot sell it or make money off it.
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      What? Is that not enough of an incentive? If it goes into the air, you cannot sell it or make money off it.

      Nope, like most such things, the inventory loss is accounted for, and already passed onto the consumer buried in a line item.

      I'd be very surprised to hear those companies are eating this cost. And, if they're just passing it on to the consumers, they don't really suffer any loss, and therefore don't care.

      In the same way that I have to pay a security fee when I fly so some flunky can grab my junk, it i

      • In my state, the gas distribution companies are allowed a set percentage of lost and unaccounted for gas (gas the company buys but doesn't sell to customer and no longer has). As long as the company stays within that acceptable range, they have little reason to care about further reductions since that offset is built into their rate. However, being above that rate means they blowing money out holes in the pipes.

    • Depends, with anything like this you have to ask a few questions.

      What is the cost of fixing the leak?
      What is the cost of the product that leaks per year at current prices?
      Is there any other cost to you for the leakage?
      What is the remaining lifetime on the pipe before it comes up for scheduled replacement anyway?

      Based on these questions and various financial figures for the utility (what is their cost of funds? does the rate calculation algorithm consider the utility's spending and if so in what way? what is

      • by cellocgw (617879)

        What is the cost of fixing the leak?
        What is the cost of the product that leaks per year at current prices?
        Is there any other cost to you for the leakage?

        Obligatory: Mr. Durden? Is that you?

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:06PM (#42059337) Homepage Journal
    You mean other than your property not exploding? I think your property not exploding qualifies as a financial incentive, doesn't it? Like if I told you "You need to fix this gas leak or your property will explode," I'm pretty sure you'll want to fix it.
    • by Trepidity (597)

      The chances of your property in particular exploding though are pretty low, low enough that most people seem to put off getting these kinds of things inspected or fixed.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Except that the people who would own and or maintain the infrastructure aren't the ones whose property might blow up.

      This is closer to me saying "you need to fix your gas leak or my property might explode". Unless I can get you to take on legal responsibility in case it happens, what is the incentive for you to fix the leak?

      This isn't property owners who aren't fixing their own property -- this is infrastructure type stuff.

      • For the vast majority of metro real estate, the building rent is trivial compared to the land rent.

        also known as "location, location, location."

  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:07PM (#42059353)
    Big Dig 2: The Explosioning!
  • by mveloso (325617) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:20PM (#42059477)

    Who knew that global warming/climate change was caused by Boston? That fossil fuel argument was just a smokescreen for what really causes climate change: Boston Baked Beans!

  • cost-to-fix vs. cost-to-take-a-chance. Chance always wins.

    • cost-to-fix vs. cost-to-take-a-chance. Chance always wins.

      Yeah.. Then ship hits the fan.. Now engage "hide all the documents, emails, and other shit you can so it looks like we were going to fix it" mode.

  • by runeghost (2509522) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:33PM (#42059603)

    Someone should attach a circuit board along with some wires and blinking lights to the gas pipelines. That should get the government right on top of the problem.

  • I believe it.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@cGINSBERGarpanet.net minus poet> on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:38PM (#42059659) Homepage

    Some of our infrastructure is OLD. A lot of it.

    Recently, we were dealing with my grandmother on the first floor. She would call saying she smelled gas, so she would open the windows then call us upstairs, of course, we couldn't smell it.... after a few times we called. They came and said our pipes were old, put some wax sealant on and suggested we fix them soon.

    I didn't doubt their diagnosis, the house has had gas longer than electricity....

    Then a few days later she smelled it again... this time we ended up with a whole crew down,....not in our house... but going up and down the street. Apparently it wasn't our pipes...there was a leak under the road across the street!

    • by mjpaci (33725)

      Last winter I stepped out my front door and smelled gas and called NSTAR and they came out with a truck and detectors and the whole lot. They smelled it too, but the concentration wasn't high enough to call it an emergency, so they put me on a repair list. Two weeks later I come home to find the street in front of my house spray painted by DigSafe and a note on my door saying I need to be home the next day. They came, ran a liner in the pipe from the main to my house, connected it inside, and were gone. No

  • How much of the methane is due to a pile of rotting leaves? They should have driven around the country where no lines exist to establish a baseline.
    • What about cows? or any animal that farts and burps a lot.

      In New Zealand, 47% of greenhouse emissions are from the agriculture sector, 35% of that is methane from cows and sheep. That's more than the transport (19%) and power (26%) sectors combined. (the left overs are 6% industry and 2% waste)
  • hang on (Score:4, Informative)

    by viperidaenz (2515578) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @04:10PM (#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
    • Re:hang on (Score:5, Informative)

      by reboot246 (623534) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @07:40PM (#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 $$$$.
  • sounds like a BOOM! town to me.

  • by jeeves99 (187755) * on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @06:12PM (#42061333)

    I live in a dense residential neighborhood in a metro-suburb right next to Boston and have an active gas leak outside my house. You can smell it two houses in both directions.

    The gas company has been here twice. The fire department once. The town fire chief actually called an emergency number at the gas company to ask them to fix it.

    Guess what? No fix... 4 months and counting.

    The party line the gas company has been giving me is (paraphrased)... "There are too many leaks in the area, so we are triaging. Unless the gas is actively leaking INTO the house (as opposed to outside of the house), we won't fix it for now. Given the Hurricane Sandy response in the mid-atlantic region, things are pushed back even further. We'll keep monitoring the leak. Trust us."

    Uh, huh... yeah, my house is going to blow up. Or at the least, one of my trash cans on the curb is turning into a bottle rocket.

  • by Diamonddavej (851495) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @06:28PM (#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).

  • I hate it when an article raises more questions than it answers, especially questions directly related to procedure and which may negate the entire premise of the article.

    Most old cities have combined storm and septic sewer systems. One of the hazards of such sewer systems is methane. Did they account for any such sewers in their methane scan?

    And regardless of the explosion hazard, or simply the cost of the gas or some deterioration in air quality, methane is a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2. And if y

    • From article:

      with a device to measure methane, the chief chemical component of natural gas

      They didn't specify that it was coming from natural gas, just made reference to it.

      Your point could be very valid in identifying the main source!

      Sewage shit (yes, I want to use that word strongly here) builds up over time and creates more stoppage points for festering.

If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong. -- Norm Schryer

Working...