Google has employed its “Street View” cars for quite some time now to give Internet dwellers some perspective on America’s roads. The past couple years, however, those same cars have served an additional purpose. A non-profit organization by the name of Environmental Defense Fund partnered with Google to mount air monitors on the cars in order to detect methane gas leaks in various parts of the country.

For two years now, Google’s cars have been locating methane emissions in big cities like New York and Boston. In areas of central Boston the cars exposed new leaks at a frequency of one every few blocks.

New carbon emissions laws for power plants propelled climate change into the public consciousness again in recent weeks, so it will be interesting to see if a similar outcry results from news about methane leaks. Experts consider methane’s potential effects on global warming to be approximately 20 times that of carbon dioxide, and the numerous leaks discovered by Google cars reveal not only a potential wide scale global warming threat, but also the possibility of natural gas explosions from faulty piping.

Earlier this year, Harlem suffered a natural gas explosion that killed eight people. To make matters worse, the data collected by the Environmental Defense Fund shows that many places dealing with methane leaks still use cast iron pipes that could be corroded and dangerous. In contrast, Indianapolis recently installed new plastic pipes, and data from those areas shows almost no leaks whatsoever.

EDF reports it will take steps to expand the reach of its programs in order to study more cities. In the meantime, the production of methane is escalating in the U.S. due to drilling and an increase in pipelines. It remains to be seen whether significant legislation will eventually be passed to deal with the growing problem.


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