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Peoples Gas Unveils High-Tech Methane Leak Detection System

Sabrina Bodon
A Peoples Gas vehicle is equipped with an advanced leak detection system to find places where methane is escaping from pipelines.

Peoples Gas has outfitted a vehicle that will drive over 950 miles of the utility’s pipelines in Pittsburgh this year using a high-tech system to find places where methane leaks into the air.

Methane is the main component of natural gas used for home heating, and it contributes to climate change when it enters the atmosphere.

Utilities across Pennsylvania are required by law to look for leaks. In announcing the new technology Tuesday, Peoples CEO Morgan O’Brien said the company’s existing methods can detect methane in parts per million, but its new monitor, developed at Colorado State University, can measure methane in parts per billion.

Several tubes attached to the bottom of a vehicle take in air that’s analyzed by the monitor. O’Brien said the technology will help the utility figure out which leaks to tackle first.

“When it comes to fixing and replacing pipe, we can prioritize for the first time pipes based on the amount of methane,” he said.

He said the company intends to cut its emissions in half.

Credit Sabrina Bodon / WESA
Morgan O’Brien is CEO of Peoples Gas.

Detection technology that sensitive is new, and only a handful of utilities across the country have started using it, said Jonathan Peress, senior director of energy market policy for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Peoples is working in partnership with EDF and Pittsburgh city officials. Using the new monitor is a way to help the city achieve its emission reduction goals set last year.

“Peoples Gas of Pittsburgh is the first utility that has agreed and started using that technology and that methodology explicitly for the purposes of reducing methane to feed into a municipal climate action plan,” Peress said.

EDF and local officials say they hope other utilities will follow suit and adopt similar advanced leak detection systems.

This story was produced in partership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration between WESA, the Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth’s energy economy.

Amy Sisk covers energy for WESA and StateImpact Pennsylvania, a public media collaboration focused on energy.