A study conducted by the State University of Colorado, published in the journal Environmental science and technology reveals that in US cities, for several years, leaks from natural gas pipelines have been more prevalent in low-income or non-white neighborhoods than in high-income or predominantly white neighborhoods.
The study was led by senior author Joseph von Fischer, a professor in the Department of Biology at CSU, and Zachary Weller, a former assistant professor in the Department of Statistics at CSU. The work, supported by a donation to the Environmental Protection Fund, is based on a multi-year research project in which researchers and CSU colleagues conducted detailed studies of methane leaks in cities using highly sensitive analyzers in Google Street View cars. As they toured various cities, cars collected detailed sightings of leaks from natural gas distribution pipelines, which are usually located a few feet underground. The data were collected between 2014 and 2018 and are publicly available through interactive maps the created team.
For environmental justice– A focused study, researchers compare household census data from 2017 with their publicly available data on gas leaks from 13 metro areas across the country. Their analysis of multiple cities revealed a higher density of leaks in communities where the majority of the population is non-white compared to predominantly white neighborhoods. Leak density has also increased with declining average incomes. The strength of these connections varies between cities.
“There are clear paths that utilities can take to deal with the problem,” von Fischer said. “For example, they could perform similar leak analyzes of their systems and take demographic information into account when making decisions about infrastructure management.
Natural gas is mostly methane – a potentially explosive and very powerful greenhouse gas, responsible for more than a quarter of current global warming. Methane gas leak locally pipeline the systems are carefully regulated for safety, but many leaks are left unattended for years – during which time they continue to emit climate pollution and can become dangerous.
“Gas leaks are a solvable problem and it is clear that they are better managed in some areas than in others,” von Fischer said. “This analysis reveals a clear need to improve the equity of gas distribution systems in order to improve health and safety outcomes for all communities.”
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal agency that monitors these pipelines, is in the process of setting new standards that will require pipeline operators to use advanced leak detection technology to detect and correct methane leaks. in pipelines. However, these standards have not yet been finalized and implemented.
Leaks from gas pipelines pose a safety risk and release harmful climate pollution, and it is clear that this problem may be worse for communities of color and low income households, “said Erin Murphy, a senior attorney with the Environmental Protection Fund.” Tighter surveillance of pipeline leaks is needed to combat the climate crisis, build healthier communities and promote environmental justice. “
Co-authors of the study include Seongwon Im, Ph.D. candidate of statistics at CSU; Emily Stuchiner, recently a doctor of biology at CSU. finish; and Virginia Palacios of the Commission change in Laredo, Texas.
Zachary D. Weller et al., Environmental Injustices Leaks from Urban Natural Gas Distribution Systems: Models Between and Within 13 U.S. Metro Zones, Environmental science and technology (2022). DOI: 10.1021 / acs.est.2c00097
Colorado State University
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