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PSE&G using environmental project's data to spot, replace high-leak gas pipes

Using high-tech methane emissions detection and mapping tools, Public Service Electric and Gas Co. cut methane emissions in target areas by 83% in roughly the past year.

As part of a $905 million, three-year pipeline replacement program, PSE&G has been using data the Environmental Defense Fund and Google gathered on how much methane is being released by each leak, allowing the utility to single out the largest leaks as top priorities for replacement.

Because of the volume-focused approach, PSE&G was able to replace 35% fewer miles of pipe than if it did not know where the biggest leaks were.

Methane is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas, lasting only about 12 years in the atmosphere but having more than 80 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide on a 20-year basis. The gas' potency and life span make it a prime target for reducing the pace of climate change in the near term.

"Reducing methane is a serious challenge for utilities, but also a big opportunity," Ralph LaRossa, president and COO of PSE&G, said in a Dec. 13 statement. "Using the data from EDF, we are able to keep safety paramount, while achieving more environmental value, at less cost and more quickly than before, which benefits both our customers and the climate."

Research in recent years has determined that so-called super-emitters tend to be responsible for the vast majority of methane emissions from the natural gas and oil industry. Since a smattering of large leaks spew the greatest volume of methane, targeted infrastructure replacement is one of the most time and money efficient ways of reducing emissions.

On PSE&G's system, the areas the company prioritized for upgrades accounted for more than 37% of the emissions but only 9% of the mileage on which leak rates were measured, the company said.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities in November 2015 approved the Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. subsidiary's plan to spend $905 million on 510 miles of gas mains and thousands of services over three years. The board welcomed the utility's plan to use Environmental Defense Fund data to prioritize the work.

Prior to the project approval, a Google Street View car spent May 2015 through November 2015 collecting millions of measurements over hundreds of miles of road in some of New Jersey's more densely populated areas, the utility said.

"Reducing methane emissions is one of the quickest ways we have to protect the climate. PSE&G deserves a lot of credit for making this a priority. It takes courage to invite an environmental group to come sniffing around for leaks on their system," Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said in a statement. "By tackling these leaks faster, PSE&G will achieve a lot more environmental benefit for their infrastructure dollars. That's good for their customers, and good for New Jersey."

The environmental group and Google have teamed up on methane emissions data collection several times, also mapping leaks in Los Angeles, Boston, Staten Island, N.Y., and Indianapolis.