Plan to map and reduce harmful methane emissions in New Jersey made possible by CSU science

jersey city skylineNew Jersey’s largest utility has agreed to use advanced leak detection technology and data analytics piloted by Colorado State University and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to map and measure leaks from underground natural gas lines. The deal is part of a $1.875 billion settlement approved by the Board of Public Utilities involving Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G), EDF and other stakeholders to extend PSE&G’s accelerated program to replace hundreds of miles of aging pipes. The work is in addition to a recent $905 million methane-mitigating effort the utility took on with CSU’s methane-mapping technology.

The approach uses real-time methane detection to find gas leaks, which, when paired with Google Street View cars, creates maps that cities and utilities can use for targeted repairs and upgrades. The work at CSU has been led by associate professor Joe von Fischer, of the Department of Biology in the College of Natural Sciences. Other collaborators on campus include Professor Jay Ham of environmental physics and micrometerology and Associate Professor Sangmi Pallickara of computer science.

Leaking natural gas – which is mostly methane – has a powerful effect on the climate. That’s because methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. These leaks are a persistent challenge for utilities, particularly in the Northeast, where natural gas infrastructure is older.

CSU science

The CSU-developed technology is specifically designed to find leaks that don’t necessarily pose a safety risk, but which collectively emit large amounts of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. Utilities and regulators nationwide are increasingly focused on methane emissions as a growing body of research shows both the scale of the problem and the environmental benefits of fixing it.

“Reducing methane emissions is one of the quickest ways we have to protect the climate,” said Mary Barber, EDF director of Strategic Alignment and Performance. “By tackling these leaks faster, PSE&G will achieve a lot more environmental benefit for their infrastructure dollars. That’s good for their customers, and good for New Jersey.”

Under the deal, PSE&G will replace 875 miles of cast iron and unprotected steel gas mains over five years. The company will work with advanced leak detection technology contractors to survey 280 miles of its most leak-prone pipe this spring and summer. Together with EDF and CSU, PSE&G will use the new measurement tools to estimate leak rates, targeting the leakiest sections for replacement first in order to achieve the greatest emissions reduction quickest.

Building on success

The plan is based on a successful pilot project. Using data gathered by Google Street View mapping cars equipped with the system developed by CSU and EDF, PSE&G achieved an 83 percent reduction in methane emissions in some of the most densely populated areas in New Jersey. They achieved this while replacing one-third fewer miles of gas lines the state would have needed to get the same result. PSE&G will provide annual reports detailing their progress and the results achieved using the new approach, compared with business as usual.

EDF is an international nonprofit organization that creates solutions to the most serious environmental problems through science, economics, law and private-sector partnerships. PSE&G is New Jersey’s largest provider of electric and gas service, serving 2.2 million electric customers and 1.8 million gas customers.