Report: Damaging methane gas pipeline leaks happen every 40 hours in the U.S.

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Baltimore, MD – Methane gas – commonly referred to as “natural” gas – has been piped through our communities for heating and cooking for a century, and for just as long, has been subject to dangerous leaks. On Thursday, Maryland PIRG Foundation, Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center and Frontier Group released a new report that finds from 2010 through nearly the end of 2021, almost 2,600  gas pipeline incidents occurred in the United States that were serious enough to require reporting to the federal government. That’s the equivalent to one every 40 hours. 

“For as long as we have used gas to heat and cook, it has posed a risk both to people who use it in their homes and those who live in neighborhoods above gas pipes,” said Maryland PIRG Foundation Director Emily Scarr. “House explosions and leaking pipelines, like we have experienced in Baltimore and across the state, aren’t isolated incidents – they’re the result of an energy system that pipes dangerous, explosive gas through our neighborhoods. It’s time to move away from gas and toward safer, cleaner electrification and renewable energy.” 

In addition to the report, the groups also released a tip guide to provide guidance on what to do if you suspect a gas leak in your community. Of the nearly 2,600 pipeline incidents recorded between 2010 and 2021, 850 resulted in fires and 328 in an explosion. Those incidents killed 122 people and injured more than 600. The total costs to communities from things such as property damage, emergency services, and the value of intentionally and unintentionally released gas, totaled nearly $4 billion. These incidents also resulted in the leakage of 26.6 billion cubic feet of gas, equivalent in its effects on global warming to emissions from over 2.4 million passenger vehicles driven for a year. 

The serious pipeline incidents addressed in the report represent just a fraction of the leaks experienced in the production, transportation and burning of gas. Smaller gas leaks are rife in urban areas, like Baltimore and Montgomery County, while large methane leaks from oil and gas production threaten the climate. A study from 2018 found that leaks from gas lines over the previous two decades had nearly doubled the climate impact of gas. In addition, some serious gas explosions that have caused death or injury in Maryland are not included in the data as they did not occur in the pipeline system.

“Leaks, fires and explosions are reminders that transporting methane gas is dangerous business,” said Tony Dutzik, associate director and senior policy analyst at Frontier Group and lead author of the report. “The incidents included in this report were caused by a wide variety of factors, from operator errors to equipment failures, and excavation damage to natural causes. Fully protecting the public requires us to reduce our dependence on gas.”

The report recommends that the U.S. stop relying on methane gas for home heating and cooking as well as electricity generation. Instead, policy makers should incentivize and accelerate the transition to all-electric buildings and renewable sources of energy, which are cleaner and safer for communities. During the transition, the report recommends that gas infrastructure investments focus on fixing leaks. 

“When rooftop solar panels can power an induction cooktop or electric heat pump, it becomes increasingly unacceptable to saddle society with the risks associated with pumping methane into our homes and throughout our communities,” said Scarr. “It’s time to leave explosive and polluting fossil fuels like methane behind and embrace a future powered by 100% renewable energy.”