MIT team: over 4,000 gas leaks in Boston may have gone unrepaired last year

“Lost Leaks” interactive map shows locations of unexplained leaks from National Grid and Eversource.
“Lost Leaks” interactive map shows locations of unexplained leaks from National Grid and Eversource.

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Gas leaks are bad news for many reasons. They contribute to greenhouse gas buildup, disproportionately contribute to methane emissions, and can be physically dangerous to the people around them.

But according to a team led by a CSAIL data scientist, utility companies like National grid and Eversource are often not held accountable for actually repairing them.

In response, the researchers developed “Lost Leaks”, an interactive map and online project that shows users exactly where in greater Boston there are gas leaks that have not been logged as repaired.

The work was spearheaded by Albert Carter from CSAIL’s Big Data Initiative, alongside programmer Michael Webber and web developer Allison Sichling.

In total, the team found more than 4,000 gas leaks reported to National Grid and Eversource in 2014 that had disappeared by 2015, representing 17 percent and 32 percent of all leaks for the two companies, respectively.

According to a recent Boston University study, roughly 15% of leaks are potentially explosive, while seven percent of leaks contribute more than half of the Boston metro area’s methane emissions.

Carter is quick to caution that there may be legitimate reasons for a leak appearing to be “lost.”  For example, leaks may be omitted if a company performed a scheduled replacement of pipes that would have happened regardless of the leak.

“However, if scheduled pipe replacements accounted for all (or most) of the missing gas leaks we discovered, we would expect these leaks to be clustered along streets where pipes were replaced between 2014 and 2015,” says Carter. “But we don't see an obvious pattern like that.”

The team developed the project using DataHub, a new data collaboration and publishing tool created at CSAIL. The team’s data was taken from the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.