By Cassie McClure and Suzanne Michaels
Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 3/29/20
While the nation deals with a looming invisible danger, another invisible service is managed by Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) every day. Colorless and only recognizable by an added sulfur smell, natural gas is an everyday useful part of residents’ lives for heating and cooking. However, when leaks occur, natural gas can be dangerous.
Adam Valles, LCU gas leak surveyor, has a tool that allows him - crucially important nowadays - to keep his distance. The Remote Methane Leak Detector (RMLD) works from 30 to 100 feet away and lets Valles detect gas leaks from meters from the street or even from outside a fence; in case a gate is locked or guard dogs are present.
“The RMLD sends out an infrared beam to the meter and if it hits a gas plume, it slows the electrical pulse that comes back to my detector,” he said. “That allows me to know not only that there is a leak, but how large the leak might be.”
Previously, each surveyor would need to get right next to the meter and spray soapy water onto the meter. Bubbles meant that there was a leak, but it’s a process that would also take much longer. “Now I can walk through a neighborhood in about 20 minutes,” Valles said. “It used to take me about half a day.”
Valles said the machine does confuse residents as he walks the streets, scanning yards for any leaking pipes; the RMLD looks a bit like a speed detector and he wears special dark glasses to help read the RMLD. “But it’s a critical tool for my job in keeping our gas service safe for residents,” he said.
Las Cruces Utilities can be reached at 575-528-3500 from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Las Cruces Utilities provides services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.
PHOTO 1: LCU Gas Leak Surveyor, Adam Valles. aims his RMLD at a gas meter. The detector can work from the street and gives Valles an exact percentage of the leak if he finds one.