Published: July 23, 2018
The laser device pointed across a field.

Wyoming and Colorado are in the top ten natural gas producing states. But in those states – and across the country – a lot of that gas is escaping straight into the air. Scientists are now working to come up with a better way to track those leaks down.

In the spring of 2017 residents of a subdivision in Firestone, Colorado, watched as a home suddenly caught fire and exploded, killing two people and injuring another. The culprit was methane. It’s the main ingredient in natural gas, which had been seeping into the home’s basement from an old pipeline.

“It would appear an unusual and tragic set of circumstances occurred here,” said Ted Poszywak, Firestone’s fire chief, in a press conference.

The event was certainly tragic, but it wasn’t necessarily that unusual. As researchers recently found, methane leaks are happening all the time, and while accidents are rare, the leaks are still a threat to people and the environment. Now, CU Boulder researchers led by Greg Rieker, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, have created a way to find and catalog these leaking gas sites.