Google Street View Cars Find Hundreds of Gas Leaks in Cities

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If you live in an old city surrounded by history, chances are you also live with hundreds if not thousands of gas leaks all around you. It's bad for you (think explosions) and bad for the environment (think global warming), so we should probably do something about it. That's why Google Street View and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have teamed up to map methane leaks in cities.

Last spring, three of Google's camera-laden Street View cars were fitted with an extra sensor for methane. They drove all over three cities—Boston, New York's Staten Island, and Indianapolis—to sniff out gas leaks. You can check out the resulting interactive maps yourself at the Environmental Defense Fund's website.

The difference between an old city with corroded pipes like Boston (above) and a younger city like Indianapolis (below) is utterly striking. To put it into numbers, the Google Street View cars found one leak every mile in Boston and only one leak every 200 miles in Indianapolis.


Google and EDF are also planning to bring the methane-sniffing cars to Los Angeles and Syracuse soon. Feeling a bit worried about your aging city? You can nominate your area to be mapped too.


As we've written about before, gas leaks are an often invisible problem in old cities—invisible until something goes disastrously wrong. For those of you feeling smug about your shiny, gas leak-less city, don't dismiss the greater environmental impact either. Methane traps 72 as much heat as carbon dioxide.

Gas leaks are pretty much a lose-lose for everyone involved, including the gas companies who are literally letting money float away. And while we have these crazy looking cars devoted to driving around and covering literally all the road possible, we might as well slap some other sensors to them and make the most of the effort. Now what else could we strap to them? [Environmental Defense Fund via New Scientist]


An enclosure used to measure methane concentrations versus a mobile Google Street View car. All images via the Environmental Defense Fund