Dot map shows gas leaks found by researchers while surveying in Washington, D.C. (credit: Duke University)

Dot map shows gas leaks found by researchers while surveying in Washington, D.C. (credit: Duke University)

LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — A new report has found nearly 6,000 natural gas leaks in Washington, D.C., including 12 in manholes where high methane levels posed a risk of explosion.

Researchers from Duke University and Boston University used methane gas-detection instruments to detect 5,893 leaks under the streets of the nation’s capital.

The team found 19 of the leaks had high levels of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming and is the primary ingredient of natural gas.

Twelve of those manholes could have caused explosions because of their high concentrations of methane — about 10 times the threshold at which explosions can occur.

In February, the scientists say they reported the high-level leaks to Washington Gas. But four months later, the team found several leaks still had dangerously-high methane concentrations that could cause explosions.

“Somewhere underground where the gas is leaking out, in potential, is dangerous,” Rob Jackson, professor of environmental sciences at Duke who led the study, told WNEW’s Kevin Rincon.

The average methane concentration discovered in the leaks was reportedly more than two times higher than the background concentration collected in the city.

Methane levels in some leaks, according to the study, were about 45 times higher than normal background levels.


The study was published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Natural gas accidents cause an average of 17 deaths, 68 injuries, and $133 million in property damage every year, according to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Washington Gas officials declined to answer questions about the study, but released this statement:

At Washington Gas, safety is the highest priority and the company lives by that obligation. We maintain rigorous inspection programs, operating procedures and record-keeping protocols. Washington Gas practices exceed the leak detection and repair procedures that are required by code, enforced by federal agencies and overseen by each state’s public service commission. The company continually takes appropriate actions to maintain the safety of its gas distribution system in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia.

In accordance with the company’s standard protocol, Washington Gas immediately responds to every report of natural gas odor and repairs leaks 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. With over 13,000 miles of distribution mains and more than 940,000 service lines in our system, it is not realistic to state that there are no leaks.

Throughout the country, all utilities are challenged with the timely replacement of aging infrastructure. Washington Gas continually replaces old infrastructure, as required. Maryland has recently joined Virginia and over 34 other states in recognizing this challenge by creating a law which allows for the accelerated replacement of aging infrastructure.

Washington Gas reminds customers and the general public that if they smell natural gas, or if they have an emergency involving natural gas, to leave the area immediately and call 911 or the Washington Gas at Emergency Leak Line at 703-750-1400 or 1-800-752-7520.

WNEW’s Kevin Rincon contributed to this report. Follow him and WNEW on Twitter.


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