It appears Google wants to save the Earth, perhaps so it can continue dominating it forever—Google Earth Outreach has teamed up with the Environmental Defense Fund to map out methane leaks in three cities around the country, using gas monitor-sporting Google Street View cars. Staten Island just happens to be one of those cities (see, even Google doesn't think it's part of NYC!), and the gas monitors spotted nearly 1,000 leaks in the borough.
The EDF released findings from the pilot mapping program yesterday, publishing the Staten Island methane map along with maps from Indianapolis and Boston. Researchers found that Staten Island, whose gas is handled by National Grid, suffered a number of methane leaks between January and April 2014, with readings indicating "an average of about one leak for every mile we drove." Boston sported a similar leak-to-mile ratio; readings in Indianapolis, however, showed an average of one leak for every 200 miles the Google Street View cars drove.
According to the EDF, both Staten Island's and Boston's pipes are over 50 years old, which is common in Northeastern cities. Staten Island is also home to the now-shuttered Fresh Kills landfill, which is the largest landfill on the Eastern Seaboard, and landfills happen to emit methane.
Methane gas leaks are difficult to spot, since they're both invisible and odorless, and even small leaks pose a serious environmental threat, according to the EDF. "Leaks like these rarely pose an immediate safety threat, but the leaking natural gas - which is mostly methane - has a powerful effect on the global climate, carrying 120 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide," the fund purports.
Note that the daily carbon pollution from some of the leaks were so extreme, they matched the carbon emitted by a car driving between 1,000 and 9,000 miles. And though methane leaks aren't necessarily immediate safety threats, they can contribute to smog, aggravating asthma and triggering headaches and nausea and, in some cases, they can cause explosions.
National Grid has endorsed the project. "We are taking action and eliminating older natural gas infrastructure on our system by accelerating natural gas pipeline replacement," Susan Fleck, Vice President of National Grid Pipeline Safety, said in a statement. Con Ed, meanwhile, has not offered a time frame for fixing the leaks. "We want to do this in the right way, a way that appeases a lot of people's concerns. And I'm sure we'll get there," spokesman Michael Clendenin told NBC News. Don't worry, we've got decades left before the world melts completely.