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Gas leak detection in transmission pipelines is vitally important for safe operation. Delayed detection can endanger human life, property and the environment.
What is a Gas Leak?
Natural gas is a fossil fuel found beneath the Earth’s surface and has numerous applications. Commonly used to produce electricity and fuel for vehicles, it can also be used in furnaces, space heaters, pool heaters, water heaters, stoves, lighting and fireplaces.
Gas and oil pipelines are the safest and most economical method of transporting natural gases and energy sources. There are high standards in building these networks to ensure they are safe, reliable and efficient. If these pipelines are properly maintained there will be no leaks; however, leaks can result from factors such as corrosion and accidents.
Health Hazards of Gas Leaks
Natural gas has no color or odor, making leaks extremely hard to detect. When inhaled, the symptoms of exposure include headache, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, breathing problems and eye and throat irritation.
However, exposure to high levels of gas can lead to serious complications, including loss of consciousness, lack of coordination and death by suffocation. It is therefore imperative gas leaks are detected early to prevent serious health consequences among not only workers in plants, but also nearby residents.
On average, 17 people die each year due to gas leaks in the United States. They also cause about $133 million in property damage annually.
Environmental Hazards of Gas Leaks
Detecting and repairing methane leaks from plants, stations and pipelines using advanced equipment and proper testing protocols can help reduce 1.70 to 1.80 million metric tons of methane loss each year.
Gas leaks waste a valuable source of energy, and even a small gas leak can gradually buildup an explosive concentration of gas. Aside from causing explosion hazards and fire, gas leaks can kill vegetation and release harmful greenhouse gases (usually methane) to the atmosphere, further contributing to the ongoing climate change problem.
The drilling and extraction of natural gas from wells and its transportation in pipelines may lead to methane leakage. Methane is 34 times stronger than carbon dioxide in trapping heat over a 100-year period. Subsequently, it is 86 times stronger over two decades.
Early Detection of Gas Leaks Important for the Environment
Pipeline systems deteriorate progressively over time. When this happens, corrosion can occur which increases the probability of failure. Termed as fatigue cracking, natural gas can leak into the air causing various health problems and damage to the environment.
Detecting gas leaks early will help prevent methane’s negative effects on both human health and the environment. However, pipeline networks cover a large area making it difficult to maintain and monitor gas leaks.
Gas leaks are a persistent challenge, but one way to monitor them is through mapping. Maps show the location of leaks and repairs and are updated regularly. Immediate action must be taken when a new leak is dicovered to prevent further build-up of the harmful gases in the air.
Environmental Health Concerns and Toxic Chemicals Where you Live, Work, and Play. (2019). https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/natural-gas
Environmental Defense Fund. (2019). https://www.edf.org/climate/methanemaps/how-to-fix-problem
Kalubu, L., Kaijage, S., & Sinde, R. (2014). An overview of pipeline leak detection and location systems. Pan African International Conference on Information Science, Computing and Telecommunications. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266557667_An_overview_of_pipeline_leak_detection_and_location_systems
Jackson, R., Down, A., Phillips, N., Ackley, R., Cook, C., Plata, D. & Zhao, K. (2014). Natural Gas Pipeline Leaks Across Washington, DC. ACS Publications. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es404474