Extensive Methane Leaks Under Streets of Boston
5/13/2011 - Boston University College of Arts and Sciences -
Earlier this year, Boston University researchers and collaborators
conducted a mobile greenhouse gas audit in Boston and found hundreds
of natural gas leaks under the streets and sidewalks of Greater
Nathan Phillips, associate professor of geography and
environment and director of BU’s Center for Environmental and Energy
Studies (CEES), and his research partners will present these and
related findings at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL)
Global Monitoring Annual Conference, May 17-18 in Boulder, Colorado.
and partners Picarro, Inc., Gas Safety USA, and the Cooperative
Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of
Colorado, Boulder are currently researching the economic and
environmental impacts of these leaks.
Their work updates earlier findings that unaccounted-for gas
amounted to eight billion cubic feet in Massachusetts, costing about
Such gas leaks have been implicated in damage and mortality
of urban and suburban street trees.
Evidence from other cities
indicates that the situation in Boston is likely similar to cities
and towns across the nation.
In an attempt to identify major methane sources in Boston and
Indianapolis, Phillips and his research partners systematically
measured methane (CH4) concentrations at street level using a
vehicle-mounted cavity “ringdown” analyzer.
A number of discrete sources were detected at concentration
levels in excess of 15 times background levels.
Background levels of methane were also measured to be 10
percent higher than the world-wide average of 1.860 ppm.
Measurements of CH4 concentration levels along with detailed
location information will be presented.
In addition, chamber flux
measurements of discrete sources will also be presented.
Recent measurements indicate that urban emissions are a significant
source of CH4 and in fact may be substantially higher than current
As such, urban emissions could contribute 7-15
percent to the global anthropogenic budget of methane.
Although it is known that the per capita carbon footprint of
compact cities such as New York City, Boston, and San Francisco are
smaller than sprawling cities such as Houston, the strengths of
individual sources within these cities are not well known.
Such information is of use to government policy makers
because it can be used to incentivize changes in transportation and
land use patterns.
The ESRL conference is part of a continuing effort by atmospheric
scientists and other earth scientists to stay abreast of recent
observations concerning trace gases, aerosols, radiation, ozone, and
climate forcing and to provide a forum in which these observations
can be relayed and discussed.
In addition to ESRL reports, the conference also will
include presentation related to these themes by both independent and
cooperative investigators, and other national and international
The conference website and
Phillips’ presentation abstract
About Boston University
Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized
institution of higher education and research.
With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest
independent university in the United States.
BU contains 17 colleges and schools along with a number of
multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the
school's research and teaching mission.
The following researchers/institutions contributed to this report:
E. Crosson and S. Tan, Picarro Inc., 3105 Patrick Henry Drive, Santa
Clara, CA 94054
N. Phillips and L. Hutyra, Boston University, Department of
Geography/Environment, Center for Energy/Environmental Studies,
Boston, MA 02215, ,
J. Turnbull and C. Sweeney, Cooperative Institute for Research in
Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309
R. Ackley, Gas Safety Inc., Southborough, MA 017772