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Google’s Street View Cars Are Now Mapping Gas Leaks

In partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, Google is using its Street View cars to map out gas leaks

An explosion in Harlem in March was attributed to a gas leak (salem krieger/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Just call it Google Gas.

Google has attached methane detecting sensors to three of their Google Street View cars. Now the cars are capturing not only photographs of the street, they're also painting a pretty good picture of where gas is leaking from corroded or damaged pipes. 

The cars have already mapped Boston, Staten Island, and Indianapolis, and they're planning to visit Los Angeles and Syracuse soon. The cars found many more leaks in Boston, which has older infrastructure, than in Indianapolis where pipes are much younger.

Google is working on the project in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, who hope to map gas leaks in many more cities soon. Google and the EDF aren’t the only ones looking into tracking our aging gas pipelines, though. Propublica mapped out the nation’s aging natural gas pipelines in 2012, focusing on serious accidents that involved injuries, fatalities and property damage.

In addition to being incredibly dangerous for people, methane leaks are also bad for the environment. Methane is a greenhouse gas and a significant contributor to climate change, which is why the EDF is involved. The EDF said in a blog post that, for the most part, the leaks they've found weren’t immediately dangerous to people--utilities tend to catch and repair those large leaks fairly quickly. Instead, they've been the slow, steady stream of methane into the atmosphere that can go on for months, if not years, contributing to smog and global warming.

If you’d like your city to be next on the list, you can nominate it online

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