Hundreds of active methane gas leaks from pipes sustained by the Washington Gas Company throughout the District have been revealed, according to a study released by Beyond Gas DC.
The Beyond Gas DC report said neighborhood researchers who belong to organizations such as the District’s chapter of the Sierra Club or the civic umbrella group, Washington Interfaith Network [WIN], tested air from vents in utility access caps on city streets and sidewalks using an industry-grade methane detector. The report said the exact number of leaks came out to 389. The report also said over a dozen of the leaks hovered near the point of a possible explosion. The study took a year in duration and ended in February.
The report didn’t surprise Barbara Briggs who serves as chair of the Friends Meeting of Washington Committee on Peace & Social Concerns.
“In 2014, there was a report that said 6,000 leaks were in the city,” Briggs said. “The D.C. Department of Energy and the Environment has conducted surveys done that have been consistent with our numbers. So-called natural gas from the pipes crumbling under our streets is contributing to climate change and gas burned presents a threat to health.”
Rosa Lee lives in the River Terrace neighborhood in Ward 7. Lee decided to get involved with WIN and participated in measuring leaks throughout the city.
“I also did River Terrace,” Lee said. “We did all of the streets over here and checked the water and gas meters. We found leaks, some small, some large. This was interesting to me because I have lived in this area for over 30 years and didn’t think this was taking place.”
Lee expressed surprise at the high level of methane near Varick Memorial AME Zion Church, located in River Terrace. She said while neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River have been affected by the leakage of methane gas, “so have places like Connecticut Avenue and Georgetown.”
“These gas pipes were installed 100 years ago,” Lee said. “I know Washington Gas is looking into doing repairs. Our city leaders need to talk about that.”
The report said poor and Black children remain disproportionately affected by indoor air pollution, which may consist of methane gas. Children in Ward 8 remain 10 times more likely to go to the hospital because of an asthma attack than children in wealthier parts of the city.
Lee knows of the statistics dealing with poor young people of color.
“They know our children are getting sick but to them they don’t matter,” she said.
Mark Rodeffer of the Sierra Club said the District needs to transition away from pipes that contain methane gas to cleaner energy fuels.
“We need to move away from using fossil fuels and focus on cleaner energy sources such as solar and wind power,” he said. “We want the D.C. Council to begin the process of replacing gas a source of energy. I realize it will take more than a piece of legislation to do that. We have to work on all fronts, such as with the Public Service Commission to make that happen.”
Officials with Washington Gas said they are aware of the methane gas problem and are working to solve it.
“Washington Gas works every day to be there for our customers and is committed to meeting changing energy needs in a sustainable, low-carbon future while delivering a safe, reliable and sustainable system,” Bernie Tylor, a spokesperson for the company, said. “We are investing in infrastructure modernization through PROJECTpipes and the latest diagnostic tools on the market, including state-of-the-art satellite emissions detection technology to provide us with near real-time intelligence on our system.”
Tylor said Washington Gas strategies and plans filed with the DC Public Service Commission will help the District meet its climate goals in a manner that is affordable, reliable, safe and sustainable.
“This pathway forward focuses on modernizing our operations and infrastructure, increasing energy efficiency in homes and offices, and introducing carbon free fuels as energy options,” Tylor said. “As always, Washington Gas encourages anyone who suspects they smell a natural gas odor to immediately call 844-WASHGAS (844-927-4427) and/or 911. The company responds to odor calls 24/7 to ensure the safety of customers and communities.”