Duke University

Researchers say a dozen of them are bad enough to cause explosions.

Last winter, researchers from Duke and Boston University got in a car and drove up and down all 1,500 miles of roadway in Washington, D.C. with a spectrometer and a GPS kit. Their study identified an alarmingly pervasive problem that's otherwise impossible to see: Some 5,893 spots in the city where aging and buried natural gas pipelines leak so much methane that it's possible to detect it above ground.

The leaks produced, on average, methane concentrations more than twice the level of background air samples collected around town. And, according to the study's findings, published this week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, more than a dozen of these spots were giving off enough of the greenhouse gas to cause explosions.

In this second map from the paper, the worst leaks are shown in red spikes:

Courtesy of Duke University

Lest you think you think you're safe driving (or walking) over manholes outside of D.C., the same researchers previously found similar problems in Boston.

The Washington study was originally conducted in January and February of 2013, and the researchers reported the worst leaks to the city. When they returned to measure those same spots again four months later, nine of them were still giving off dangerous levels of the gas. In the below video, Robert B. Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Duke who led the study, explains how the team produced that map and why our aging infrastructure should make us anxious:

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: a For Rent sign in a window in San Francisco.
    Coronavirus

    Do Landlords Deserve a Coronavirus Bailout, Too?

    Some renters and homeowners are getting financial assistance during the economic disruption from the coronavirus pandemic. What about landlords?

  2. Equity

    The Last Daycares Standing

    In places where most child cares and schools have closed, in-home family daycares that remain open aren’t seeing the demand  — or the support — they expected.

  3. Equity

    Why Coronavirus Is a Food Security Crisis, Too

    Households that rely on food assistance can’t stock up during the coronavirus crisis. That’s why the U.S. created the P-SNAP program more than a decade ago.

  4. photo: South Korean soldiers attempt to disinfect the sidewalks of Seoul's Gagnam district in response to the spread of COVID-19.
    Coronavirus

    Pandemics Are Also an Urban Planning Problem

    Will COVID-19 change how cities are designed? Michele Acuto of the Connected Cities Lab talks about density, urbanization and pandemic preparation.  

  5. Equity

    We'll Need To Reopen Our Cities. But Not Without Making Changes First.

    We must prepare for a protracted battle with coronavirus. But there are changes we can make now to prepare locked-down cities for what’s next.

×