Pipeline Replacement Promotes Safety


While the findings from a university study of gas pipelines may not be all that surprising, they do reinforce the importance of maintaining infrastructure for public safety.

A team of researchers led by Stanford University professor Rob Jackson set out to detect and record the prevalence of gas leaks in several urban areas in order to measure how often they are occurring and determine how they might be reduced.

The researches selected cities that enforce pipeline-replacement programs and those that have not yet begun to replace their pipes.

What the team determined is that cities that have programs in place to actively replace outdated pipelines may reduce the occurrence of gas leaks by as much as 90 percent, Jackson revealed Wednesday (Sept. 9) in the Stanford Report.

"The surprise wasn't that replacement programs worked," he said. "It was that they worked so well."

Jackson is Stanford’s Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professor, as well as a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and at the Precourt Institute for Energy.

His research team included participants from Duke University; the U.S. Department of Energy; Gas Safety Inc.; Ohio State University; and Boston University. Stanford funded the research.

The team’s research has been published in the September issue of Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

Hitting the Road

Using vehicles equipped with methane-detecting apparatus, the participants patrolled approximately 1,600 miles of roadway.


Researchers in the Stanford-led study drove city streets block by block to collect readings on the amount of methane in the air at street level.

The targeted cities included Manhattan, NY; Cincinnati, OH; and Durham, NC.

Boston, MA, and Washington, DC, were mapped in an earlier phase of the study and their numbers are used comparatively in this phase.

The team drove the city streets block by block utilizing the sensitive gas-detecting equipment to collect real-time data on the methane in the air at street level. When a high concentration was detected, they would get out of the car to measure concentrations with a handheld device and record the findings.

"The benefit of pipeline replacement was obvious driving around the cities," said Morgan Gallagher, a postdoctoral researcher in Jackson’s lab and one of the paper’s co-authors.

What they discovered is that Durham and Cincinnati, which have implemented replacement programs, showed as little as one-tenth the number of leaks per mile than the others. Whereas those cities revealed 132 and 351 leaks respectively, more than 1,000 were recorded in Manhattan, which is further behind in updating its pipelines.


The team identified approximatelly 4.3 leaks per mile in cities that are further behind in programs to replace outdated gas pipes under their city streets.

The team detected 3,400 natural-gas pipeline leaks across Boston and 5,900 leaks in Washington during their earlier research. Those figures are comparable to Manhattan at 4.3 leaks per mile.

In contrast, Durham and Cincinnati had only 0.22 and 0.47 leaks per mile, respectively.

Out with the Old

The safety of natural gas pipelines has improved greatly in the U.S. over the years, although pipeline incidents were still responsible for 18 fatalities and 93 injuries and the loss of $2 billion worth of natural gas in 2014, according to the Stanford Report.

The age of many of the pipelines in the U.S. remains a concern. "The oldest cast-iron pipes were laid in the 1800s. They're well over a century old," Jackson said.

In 2014, a 125-year-old pipe was responsible for a blast that occurred in Manhattan.

The research findings demonstrate the impact replacement programs can have.


The oldest cast-iron pipes in the U.S. were laid as early as the 1800s, Jackson said.

Manhattan still has hundreds of miles of aged and outdated pipes beneath its streets. Durham, however, replaced all of its cast-iron and unprotected-steel pipes as of 2008. A similar program in Cincinnati begun 15 years ago is almost complete.

Of the disparity, he told USA Today cities like Manhattan, Boston and Washington “are making progress, but very slowly.”

He added, “I’d like to see it move much faster. But like roads and bridges we’re under investing in our nation’s infrastructure.”

In that article he acknowledged that public utility commissions have a priority to keep rates low but that the savings from a reduction in leaks would offset the costs of replacing the outdated pipes—which can be $1 million per mile or more.

"Infrastructure investments save lives, help the environment and, over time, will put money in people's pockets," Jackson said.


Tagged categories: Corrosion; Infrastructure; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; Pipelines; Quality Control; Research

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