Car-Mounted Sensor Able to Pinpoint Sources of Natural Gas Leaks


A U.S.-based company has developed a sophisticated sensing technology capable of detecting and pinpointing the source of even minor natural gas leaks from great distances, an innovation that could provide critical insights into the still largely unknown climate impacts of natural gas drilling.

Using a car-mounted system — which combines an advanced methane detector, wind-direction sensors, isotope detectors, and specially developed algorithms — technicians from California-based Picarro are able to collect data on concentrations of methane, a major component of natural gas, at regular driving speeds.

The so-called Picarro Surveyor technology logs the data and, in real time, plots the source of natural gas leaks using Google Maps. In a recent survey, the system identified more than 3,350 specific locations in Boston where methane levels were 15 times higher than normal, according to MIT’s Technology Review.

As natural gas drilling rapidly expands globally, driven by hydraulic fracturing technology, sophisticated methane detectors could provide important data on just how that drilling could contribute to climate change.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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