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Google StreetView Cars Map Out Methane Leaks In Boston, Find About One Leak Every Mile

BOSTON (CBS) - They map out the roads near your house, and now, Google StreetView cars have begun detecting and marking the sites of methane leaks around Boston.

Google teamed up with the non profit Environmental Defense Fund to map out leaks in Boston and two other cities. The cars are fitted with sensors that can identify leaks and estimate the size of the leak. The maps were published online on Wednesday.

Boston was chosen because of its aging piping infrastructure. The city has the second oldest and largest natural gas infrastructure in the nation.

Google cars reportedly found an average of a little more than one leak per mile in Boston.

Methane is not only an explosive hazard but leaks can also cause damage to surrounding vegetation, killing trees by hardening the root system. Last year, the town of Brookline filed suit against National Grid for more than $1 million to cover the costs of replacing dead trees.

In addition, the EPA says the gas is a significant contributor to climate change.

Cost to ratepayers is another issue arising from leaks. More than 800 billion cubic meters of the gas is estimated to be lost annually across the nation from leaking pipes, a cost that is passed along to customers.

Kate Norton, a spokesperson for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has issued a statement about the new maps.

"These leaks rarely pose a safety risk, but are crucial to fix for many other reasons, including climate change, energy costs, and the health of our urban tree canopy," her statement said. "Utilities and the Commonwealth are making continued progress on fixing non-critical leaks and replacing leak prone pipes. The Mayor wrote a letter of support for a state bill that was recently passed, which will enable speedier repair and upgrades of gas infrastructure.

"The City of Boston Utility Coordination Software (COBUCS) is a best-in-class practice for fixing leaks, in which the City works with utilities to coordinate street, sidewalk, and gas infrastructure repair and replacement."


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