The effort is common ground for groups that are typically on opposing sides in the debate over fracking like the Sierra Club and the American Public Gas Association. The groups say it’s a win-win: fixing old pipelines will keep methane out of the atmosphere, protect public health and employ more workers.
“To the extent we have a problem we can identify it certainly makes sense to fix it,” Delaware Riverkeeper Maya K. van Rossum wrote in an email. “I don’t think that calling for the fix of existing leaky pipelines is contrary to a call for ending shale gas development or fracking.”
In 2011, a crack in a cast-iron main that was installed in 1928 helped to fuel an explosion that killed five people and destroyed numerous homes in Allentown, Pa., while a 2011 explosion and fire in Philadelphia was traced to a cast-iron main installed in 1942.
There’s no exact figure on how much gas is leaking, but old cast-iron pipe is especially at risk. The AGA report estimated that about 500 to 700 miles of repairs are being done each year.
One scientist who has studied the issue of leaky natural gas pipes praised the push for repairs.
Fixing leaks “will save money and lives, improve air quality and health, and slow climate change. What’s not to like?” said Duke University scientist Rob Jackson, who was part of research that found extensive leaks throughout Boston and Washington, D.C., neighborhoods.
United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard added in a statement that such projects support “American manufacturing and jobs” and that “replacing aging pipe in our natural gas infrastructure is critical to a cleaner economy” and more efficient gas distribution.
Methane is the main component of natural gas and a powerful greenhouse gas that is second only to carbon dioxide in planet warming potential.
Just how much methane is leaking throughout the process of producing and moving natural gas is still being studied. A study from the University of Texas found methane emissions during the well completion phase, or the process of getting a well ready for production, were much lower than predicted. But another paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that government calculations may underestimate true methane emissions by 50 percent.