Is natural gas really so safe?

March 23rd, 2010
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We constantly hear about nuclear plants being a safety concern. On the other hand, natural gas never seems to get a second thought. As more gas power plants are built, more gas pipelines installed and gas consumption rises, few give much thought to the safety. After all, isn’t it “clean, safe and economical,” as the gas companies say?

Of course, the truth is that natural gas fires and explosions are fairly rare and when properly used, natural gas is reasonably safe, but not nearly as safe as something like nuclear energy. Natural gas facilities don’t go BOOM very often, but they do certainly do so on occasion. Natural gas is not an inherently safe fuel and the fact that it only explodes on occasion is due primarily to the engineering that goes into gas systems.

Many will point out that gas can’t burn or explode as long as it’s isolated from air. That’s certainly true, but once it does get lose and mixes with air, watch out!

That’s not to say that natural gas is not an important fuel and feedstock, but nobody should be under the illusion that it’s inherently safe or that it does not need to be treated with extreme caution. It can and will explode and kill people. That is the price of using natural gas. At the very least, this should be taken into account whenever natural gas is considered as a power source. Is it really necessary to accept this danger? Is there a safer alternative, such as nuclear fission?

Sometimes the answer is no. For small, load-following power plants, production of hydrocarbon-based chemicals, structure heating and other applications, gas may be the best option of reasonable economy, and the dangers it carries must be accepted, but can never be ignored.

Why flammable gases are especially dangerous:

  1. They are stored and distributed at high pressure pressure - gases have low density and in order to get enough to the end user, they must be compressed, or in some cases, liquefied. This means that the pipelines and tanks that store gas are always at much greater pressure than the atmosphere. If breached, they will not simply release gas slowly, it will rush out, sometimes violently. Mechanical stress to a tank or a pipeline can result in an explosion from the pressure alone.
  2. They easily and immediately mix with air – for a flammable material to become an explosive material, it must be thoroughly mixed with an oxidizer, such that all particles can rapidly combust due to the distribution of the oxidizer. This oxidizer can simply be the oxygen in the air if the material is thoroughly mixed with air to form a fuel-air cloud. In solids, this can be accomplished if they are pulverized into a dust and kicked up into a cloud. In liquids, this may happen if the liquid has been turned into a fine mist, but in gases it happens whenever the gas is released into the air. The two mix and produce a potentially explosive fuel-air bomb.
  3. They tend to ignite easily – Since flammable gases mix with the atmosphere easily and due to their low density, they tend to be very easy to ignite, when compared to other flammable substances. In the case of natural gas, it can ignite at concentrations as low as 5%
  4. It’s invisible and difficult to tell whether it has dispersed or not - Most gasses are invisible. Natural gas and LPG are also orderless in their native state, although a chemical is added to give them a distinct smell. The limits of human smell make it difficult to tell how much gas is present and whether or not it has been dispersed. It can be very difficult to determine whether a gas cloud has dispersed or lingers and to what degree. Natural gas tends to float upward, but when released from a compressed vessel, it may do the opposite until it reaches the temperature of the surrounding air (cold gasses tend to be heavier and pressure reduction makes the gas cold.) Gas can get trapped under overhangs or may linger if atmospheric moisture is high and winds are still.
  5. Long pipelines and high pressure mean that gas can continue to flow to an area after a fire – It can be very difficult to turn off the flow of gas from a pipeline. In some cases, the nearest valves are far enough away to make the effect of shutting off the gas take hours. If the gas is coming from a local tank, it may be difficult or impossible to reach cutoff points, and if it is coming directly from a well head, there may be no way of stopping it. Even after an initial explosion, a major gas leak may continue to burn as a “flaming geyser” or “gas volcano” that can’t easily be stopped. In many circumstances, the most dangerous part of fighting a gas fire is after the fire has been extinguished. At this point, the gas must be stopped, such as by capping a well head or leak. At any time during this procedure, it can reignite.

Natural gas explosion types:

  • Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion – This type of explosion occurs in liquid natural gas vessels, typically when a fire starts outside the main vessel, such as might occur if a leak catches fire. The heat causes the tank temperature to rise and the liquid to boil. Eventually the tank ruptures and the liquid inside flash evaporates and catches fire to explode. (Known as a BLEVE) BLEVE explosions are more common with LPG than natural gas, but can happen in liquid natural gas storage facilities.
  • Combustion within gas container or pipeline - This type of explosion is relatively rare. It occurs when improper procedure or equipment malfunction allows air to enter a gas storage tank or pipeline. Normally gas cannot burn in such circumstances, as there is no oxygen. The most common cause of this is when an empty gas tank is open to the atmosphere and then later filled with gas without first being purged of oxygen. In enclosed systems like a tank or pipeline, it does not take very much to set off an explosion.
  • Gas contained within a structure - This occurs when a gas leak allows natural gas to enter a building or other structure, where it mixes with air and is contained, not allowed to disperse. Since the structure contains the natural gas, only a small leak is required to build up a huge volume of gas, given enough time. As natural gas is lighter than air, it will often tend to build up at ceiling level and as more and more gas fills the structure, the level will slowly move down. The explosion can occur if the level of the gas eventually reaches that of an ignition source such as a pilot light or if another source, such as an electrical switch, static electricity or friction causes it to ignite. This type of explosion is common in vacant structures.
  • Gas cloud explosion – This occurs when a large volume of gas is released from a leak, purge or other operation. The time that the gas lingers can depend on a number of factors, including temperature, winds, structures and the temperature of the gas. A large cloud of lingering gas can easily ignite and explode.
  • Tank rupture and explosion – This occurs when a tank or pipe containing compressed gas explodes due to the internal pressure. The reason for the failure may be corrosion, materials fatigue or defects in the vessel. It can also happen if the pressure is too high and exceeds the design specs of the tank or pipe. The rupture can be violent and send pieces of the tank flying. The gas does not always ignite when a tank bursts, but it often does due to the violence of the rupture producing sparks.

Some examples of natural gas explosions
(this list is not complete, and only gives some examples. If all fatal gas explosions were included, it would be many many pages long)

2010 – Chandler, Oklahoma, USA
Type: Regional Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion
Result: Explosion reportedly enormous but luckily it occurred in a remote area. No injuries and only damage sustained was to pipeline.

2010 – Kleen Energy Power Plant, Middletown, Connecticut, USA
Type: Combined Cycle Gas Power Plant Explosion During Gas Purging
Result: 6 deaths, at least 24 injuries, extensive damage to power plant, by some estimates over half a billion dollars in damage, also caused damage to other local structures.

2009 – Siberia Russia
Type: Local Service Pipeline Explosion
Result: At least 8 deaths, unknown injuries, at least one apartment building destroyed, others damaged

2009 – Northern Ontario, Canada
Type: Pipeline Explosion of Major Continental Transmission Pipeline
Result: Some interruption to serve and severe pipeline damage, but no serious injuries due to remoteness of site. Explosion was described as “massive.”

2009 – ConAgra Foods Plant, Garner, North Carolina, USA
Type: Industrial User of Natural Gas Explosion During Gas Purging
Result: 4 deaths, 40 serious injuries, including severe burns, severe damage to plant resulting in the ultimate closure of the plant with severe local economic impacts.

2008 – Appomattox, Virginia, USA
Type: Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline Rupture Explosion and Fire
Result: Five injuries, many residents evacuated from homes. Two homes were destroyed and dozens only narrowly escaped being destroyed.

2007 – St Petersburg, Russia
Type: Explosion at Pumping Facility at Pipeline Supplying Power Plant
Result: Damage reported extensive, but official reports say no deaths. Temporary interruption of natural gas supply to Finland.

2004 – Ghislenghien, Belgium
Type: Major Natural Gas Pipeline Rupture and Explosion
Result: 24 Killed, 124 seriously injured, extreme local damage totaling many millions of Euro.

2004 – Stockline Plastics Factory, Glasglow, UK
Type: Industrial User of Natural Gas, Pipe Rupture and Explosion
Result: 9 deaths, 37 total reported injuries, 15 considered seriously injured, much of the factory destroyed

2004 – Arkhangelsk, Russia
Type: Local Service Pipeline Explosion
Result: 52 deaths, unknown injuries (probably hundreds), several buildings severely damaged or destroyed, many left homeless

2003 – Gao Qiao, Chongqing, China
Type: Well head blowout and mass release of “sour gas” containing large amounts of toxic hydrogen sulfide
Result: 243 deaths, at least 9000 injured, some seriously. Many of those injured will experience life-long respiratory complications and reduced lifespan. Over 64,000 had to be evacuated. Localized humanitarian disaster with catastrophic localized economic impact.

2000 – Carlsbad, New Mexico, USA
Type: Natural Gas Pipeline Rupture, Explosion and Fire
Result: Twelve Killed, several vehicles destroyed

1999 – Bridgeport, Alabama, USA
Type: Natural Gas Service Pipeline Rupture and Explosion
Result: Three killed, many structures severely damaged, four buildings destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

1999 – Wytheville Virginia, USA
Type: Natural Gas Pressure/Pump Station Explosion
Result: Two buildings destroyed (One home and one buisiness), others heavily damaged. The family that lived in a home that was destroyed were not in the house at the time. They would have been killed had they been home.

1998 – St. Cloud, Minnesota, USA
Type: Local Service Pipeline Explosion
Result: 2 Deaths, 11 serious injuries, six buildings destroyed

1998 – Esso Longford Facility, Australia
Type: Natural Gas Processing Facility and Oil Refinery
Result: 2 Deaths, 8 serious injuries, severe damage to facility and disruption to local gas supply

1997 – Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Type: Natural Gas Pipeline Rupture and Explosion
Result: 1 Death, 1 serious injury, in excess of 2 million US Dollars in property damage

1994 – Edison, New Jersey, USA
Type: Regional Pipeline Explosion
Result: 1 Death, 100 left homeless, 14 buildings severely damaged or destroyed, tens of millions of dollars of damage

1988 – Piper Alpha Platform, North Sea
Type: Offshore Oil and Natural Gas Facility, Leak and Explosion
Result: 169 Deaths (including two rescue workers killed), 59 survivors, many of whom were injured in the explosion or suffered severe hypothermia, $3.4 billion in economic losses, platform destroyed

1984 – Abbystead, Lancashire, UK
Type: Natural Accumulation of Methane Gas at Water Valvehouse and Explosion
Result: 16 Deaths, 12 serous injuries, severe structural damage and economic claims over four million GBP.

1968 -Ronan Point, East London, UK
Type: Interior gas plumbing leak and explosion
Result: 5 deaths, unknown number of injuries (probably over 100), 23 story residential building heavily damaged

1968 – Richmond, Indiana, USA
Type: Local Service Pipeline Leak and Explosion
Result: 41 deaths, 150 injuries (officially reported), extreme damage to a large area of downtown district – many tens of millions of dollars total economic loss.

1965 – Natchitoches, Louisiana, USA
Type: Transmission Pipeline Rupture and Explosion
Result: 17 deaths, at least 9 serious injuries, many more moderate injuries, many buildings destroyed, many millions of dollars in damage.

1965 – La Salle, Quebec Canada
Type: Natural Gas Leak Within Structure and Explosion
Result: 28 dead. Apartment complex destroyed

1944 – Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Type: Liquefied Natural Gas Storage Tank Vapor Leak Leading to Fuel Air Cloud And Subsequent Explosion
Result: 130 deaths, hundreds injured, extreme damage to dozens of structures. Extreme financial losses. Local disaster.

1937 – New London School, New London, Texas, USA
Type: Natural Gas Leak Within Structure and Explosion
Result: At least 295 students and teachers killed (by some accounts many more), school building completely destroyed. Worst disaster to occur at a school in US history.

Additional dangers and incidents:

  • Explosions at well heads and well head blowouts occur fairly frequently and are occasionally fatal.
  • Small buildings and homes are destroyed by contained natural gas from an internal leak many times a year.
  • “Sour gas” is natural gas with high in hydrogen sulfide. This is removed during refinement, but sour gas may be pumped significant distances from gas fields to refineries by pipelines. The gas is toxic even if it does not explode and can cause serious injury or death if released in quantity. These pipelines may be especially subject to corrosion. Several sour gas pipeline explosions have occurred.
  • Natural gas storage locations and pipelines are known terrorist targets with potential for extremely catastrophic results. Several attacks have been made on pipelines in Canada, thankfully only minor damage has been caused and no fatalities. A massive explosion was caused by an attack by Kurdish separatists on a pipeline connecting Turkey and Iran and cutting off regional gas service until the pipeline could be repaired. No fatalities occurred, because the enormous explosion was in a very remote area.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 at 2:51 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Enviornment, Good Science, History, Misc. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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30 Responses to “Is natural gas really so safe?”

  1. 1
    DV82XL Says:

    I demand you add the following:

    March 1, 1965 – La Salle, Quebec Canada

    Type: Natural Gas Leak Within Structure and Explosion

    Result: 28 dead in apartment complex

    because it was the worst in Canada, and because I was home at the time from school, heard the boom, and the subsequent drizzle of brick falling on our building. It was the most surreal experience I had had to that day. A large apartment building very much like the one I lived in, was just gone. No bits of wall standing, just a rubble field. Thankfully most of the occupants were at work or school when it happened or the death toll would have been much worse.

    We left La Salle two months later, my parents were having trouble sleeping.


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  2. 2
    drjim Says:

    Where was the picture shwon on the opening page? Looks like it really caused a lot of damage.


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  3. 3
    drbuzz0 Says:

    Added. Sorry, I’m not sure how I missed that one.


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  4. 4
    drbuzz0 Says:

    That one is Appomattox Virginia. Yes, it was an enormously destructive event. A massive explosion followed by a huge jet of flames shooting out of the pipe. Had it been in a densely populated area, it could have easily killed hundreds.

    http://www.energyindustryphotos.com/pipeline_blowout_photos_and_natu.htm

    Entirely random too. A true “Bolt from the blue” The pipeline was not being worked on and there was no digging or anything. It had some corrosion that was not detected, and somehow it compromised a joint enough that the whole thing burst and let out a massive puff of gas that erupted from the ground and ignited, probably due to the friction or static created in the rupture.

    It was an 800 PSI 30-inch diameter pipeline put in in 1955

    More pictures:

    http://www.evfc160.com/main/mediagallery/media.php?f=0&s=20090210193731437
    http://images.allbrittontv.com/wset/news/080914-pipeline-air.gif
    http://policelink.monster.com/topics/30588-gas-line-explosion/posts

    It’s a very high capacity high pressure gas pipeline.


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  5. 5
    drjim Says:

    YOUCH…. 800psi, 30″ pipeline! That’s a LOT of stored energy, even if it was an inert gas. I worked (briefly) as an instrumentation engineer at a refinery that refined various animal and vegetable fats to make household products. Part of the plant hydrogenated the fats with 1,000PSI, 1000*C Hydrogen, fed from the heater to the catalyst section with a 24″ pipe about 150′ long.
    NOT a part of the plant I enjoyed being in! After seeing several accidents caused by poor/lacking maintenance, I resigned. The money was very good, but I value my life and limb higher.


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  6. 6
    Oxygen Concentrators oxygen tank? Says:

    [...] Depleted Cranium » Blog Archive » Is natural gas really so safe? [...]


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  7. 7
    FatBigot Says:

    The problem with hydrogen sulfide is that it paralyzes your smell receptors long before it gets to a fatal concentration. So you do not know there is a hazard.


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  8. 8
    SC Says:

    Your attempt to show nuclear power is such a positive light, has failed. Sorry I can not buy this argument for the safety of nuclear energy. While I thank you for the great summary of the hushed incidents, and agree that gas is dangerous, we can not therefore say nuclear energy is safe. That is a failure of logic. And for the record I do not believe nuclear energy to be safe. I will give a few reasons for this.
    1. Once the fire is put out, and the death toll counted it is over. This can not be said of nuclear energy.
    2. Accidents will happen. Period. as this article shows. It is impossible to prevent an incident.
    3. The effects of the nuclear accidents/tests/weapons are still with us today.
    4. The political “battleground” always makes nuclear energy a problem. (storage/prevention of nuclear programs/clean up/etc.)

    While Gas is not a perfect energy solution, Nuclear is not ideal.


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  9. 9
    Finrod Says:

            SC said:

    Sorry I can not buy this argument for the safety of nuclear energy.

    You don’t have to buy anything at this late stage of the game. All you have to do is look at the statistics on safety for the various forms of energy production over the last fifty years in terms of number of deaths per MW.h delivered around the world, or within your own country, to find proof that nuclear power by far is the safest power source yet devised.


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  10. 10
    Q Says:

            SC said:

    1. Once the fire is put out, and the death toll counted it is over. This can not be said of nuclear energy.

    Those who are left severely burned, homeless or with a dead loved one might disagree. It does not end when the news story moves from the front page to the archives. It never gets any better or easier. The economic impacts can linger as well and so can the enviornmental.

    Of course, if you’re one of the dead, then it truly is over, at least for you.

            SC said:

    Sorry I can not buy this argument for the safety of nuclear energy.

    Is nuclear energy perfectly safe? No, it’s not because nothing is. Workers can (and occasionally do) die when a steam pipe explodes or they fall off a catwalk or something. Occasionally transformers catch fire and in rare instances it might spread and so on.

    Point being that people accept natural gas as being safe and don’t question it. If you build a natural gas power plant, will people come out in droves to protest it? No, of course not. People seem to be apathetic on it. There’s no concern. In fact, it is at least as dangerous and usually more so than nuclear power.

    Bigger question should be why gas gets a free pass as being presumed to be safe.


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  11. 11
    Rod Adams Says:

    DrBuzzO – I realize that your list is not intended to be complete, but one of the natural gas accidents that really should be included because of the magnitude of its human consequences was the one that occurred on December 23, 2003 in Gao Qiao, Chongqing, China. It resulted in 243 deaths, 9,000 hospitalizations and 64,000 evacuations.

    http://www.unepie.org/scp/sp/disaster/casestudies/china/gaoqiao.htm

    The Chongqing accident exposed one aspect of natural gas extraction that is not frequently discussed – the fact that a large fraction of the world’s natural gas resources are “sour” and contaminated with hydrogen sulfide. They require even more care and engineering to keep the deadly contaminant under control.


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  12. 12
    Franck Says:

    SC, if you want to get nuclear weapons to put nuclear energy production in bad light, why not also consider conventional weapons.
    -During WWII alone, fuel-base incendiary bombs killed more civilians than nuclear bombs. and these two kind of weapons were far from being the only ones to leave masses of survivors with monstrous aftermaths.
    -This is not provable one way or the other, but there is a real possibility that the cold war prevented so far WWIII, and therefore potentially saved hundreds of million lifes.

    I don’t like nuclear weapons, but face it, they are no more than a footnote in the hystory of barbary and destruction.


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  13. 13
    DV82XL Says:

            Franck said:

    -This is not provable one way or the other, but there is a real possibility that the cold war prevented so far WWIII, and therefore potentially saved hundreds of million lives..

    In 1960, the British novelist C. P. Snow said on the front page of The New York Times that unless the nuclear powers drastically reduced their armaments, thermonuclear warfare within the decade was a “mathematical certainty.” Nobody appeared to think of Snow’s statement as extravagant.

    We now have that “mathematical certainty” compounded more than four times, and no nuclear war. In September 1964, then US President L.B. Johnson said publicly, “Make no mistake, there is no such thing as a conventional nuclear weapon. For 19 peril-filled years no nation has loosed the atom against another. To do so now is a political decision of the highest order.” It would appear that even then it was realized that the rules of international conflict had changed, and that the world’s political leadership were sharply aware of it.

    Nuclear warheads are too precious to give away or to sell, too precious to “waste” killing people when they could, held in reserve, make any other nation, hesitant to consider military action. What nuclear weapons have been used for, effectively, for 60 years has neither been on the battlefield nor on populations; they have been used for influence. That influence has gotten the unfortunate name of deterrence when in fact the other side of that coin is that nations facing the possibility of a nuclear exchange now talk. So while military action may be deterred, diplomacy, negotiation and compromise are enabled.


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  14. 14
    MrNiceguy Says:

    My own gas explosion experience was with the third item from the bottom on this page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_explosion (Unfortunately, I can’t find any news archives with a decent write-up of the story.)

    I was working about half a block away, with my window facing the explosion. Fortunately, nobody was injured in the initial blast, which destroyed 2 downtown businesses. The area around the city of Hutchinson, Kansas sits above a honeycomb of salt mines, and some of the abandoned mines are used to store natural gas. The underground gas storage developed a leak, and, as the mines are below the water table, the gas came up through an abandoned brine well, leaking into the building until the predictable result.

    Over the next couple of days, the gas under the water table leaked surfaced in a number of locations in the area, mostly causing sinkholes, but also causing an explosion in a trailer part with 2 fatalities.


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  15. 15
    Andrew A. Sailer Says:

    I love antique artifacts like those, thanks for posting these. Looking forward to more!


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  16. 16
    kendallcorner Says:

    First let me say that I think that you are probably right in your claim that Nuclear is safer than Oil & Gas. I don’t have any data on that, but I can’t remember the last time anyone was killed in a nuclear power accident, or if anyone even ever has been in the US and Europe (except for, you know, Marie Curie), and that’s usually what I use to back up my pro nuclear arguments.

    What I do know is LNG. While I don’t do much with natural gas once it’s being delivered to homes, where I work we do a lot of analysis for LNG facilities. LNG is not stored under pressure. It is stored at -161 C at 1 atm. It is not refrigerated, but simply stored in insulated containers. The excess that eventually evaporates off the top is removed so that it cannot build up a pressure. LPG and liquid ammonia are a different story. An LNG tank has never BLEVEd even when they have *tried* to make them BLEVE in tests, (excellent description of a BLEVE, by the way), so the risk of BLEVE of an LNG tank is insignificant compared to the risk of pressurized and refrigerated materials.

    LNG and Natural gas are about 90% methane and as such burn rather slowly as compared to say, ethylene which if were lit as in the video below of an LNG pool fire, would not be lit by a man walking up to it and simply lighting it and walking away, but rather with a 10-foot pole as it were.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cuz0A_g35s&feature=related
    This means that out in the open, there is no risk of explosion, however, when methane gathers in a confined or congested space (such as a house), it can explode.

    My point is that it’s not so easy to lump Natural gas, LPG, and other liquefieds in with LNG, because LNG is treated much differently and although still dangerous, is inherently safer to transport. It is also cheaper to transport. Once it gets inside your home, though it is just natural gas. There is a lot of fear mongering out there, though–similary to nuclear in that way.

    But like I said, I’m a big fan of Nuclear … unless it puts me out of business.


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  17. 17
    drbuzz0 Says:

            kendallcorner said:

    What I do know is LNG. While I don’t do much with natural gas once it’s being delivered to homes, where I work we do a lot of analysis for LNG facilities. LNG is not stored under pressure. It is stored at -161 C at 1 atm. It is not refrigerated, but simply stored in insulated containers. The excess that eventually evaporates off the top is removed so that it cannot build up a pressure. LPG and liquid ammonia are a different story. An LNG tank has never BLEVEd even when they have *tried* to make them BLEVE in tests, (excellent description of a BLEVE, by the way), so the risk of BLEVE of an LNG tank is insignificant compared to the risk of pressurized and refrigerated materials.

    Really? That kind of surprises me. I know that LPG tanks have BLEVE’d plenty of times. LNG hasn’t done that? That’s interesting.

    I’m aware that LNG is not stored under pressure. (Or at least, it’s not supposed to be, and isn’t unless some kind of vent or flare fails or something)

    I’m sure modern, well maintained LNG storage facilities are perfectly safe.

    There is one method of storing natural gas that I find a bit scary. You probably know about this, but in Europe more than North America there are storage facilities used for smoothing demand for gas which are known as “Gasometers” or “Gas Holder.” They store the gas at slightly higher than atmospheric pressure in a structure that collapses. The structure is either balloon-like or is telescopic with flaps between the sections to keep a seal. As the gas flows in the structure goes from flat to its full height, as it telescopes open.

    Some of the older ones are “water sealed” like a cup floating upside down on water. Waterless ones are “grease sealed” or “oil sealed” at the base along with treated canvas.

    They’re not used like they used to be. These days, pipeline packing and occasionally pressure vessels are preferred. However, they’re not extinct. While no longer as common, there are many still used, even some made of wooden planks.

    They look scary to me. I mean, for one thing, the wood itself could catch fire, and they’re not terribly strong. I could easily see how some errors could lead to gas and air mixing.

    It would not surprise me terribly if a single well placed bullet could lead to a chain reaction that would cause a gas leak, fire, expansion, rupture and explosion to occur.

    Glad I don’t live near any.

    Then if you want even scarier, there’s this kid.

            kendallcorner said:

    My point is that it’s not so easy to lump Natural gas, LPG, and other liquefieds in with LNG, because LNG is treated much differently and although still dangerous, is inherently safer to transport. It is also cheaper to transport.

    Well, maybe I should be more clear that I don’t think natural gas is inherently unsafe to the point that it should be feared. It rarely goes boom, but I was more making the point that I think it gets something of a free ride and it’s not ever even questioned.

    It should certainly be treated with care and there needs to be a healthy level of respect that it will explode in the right circumstances if its not treated with care. I think what happened in Middletown CT is an example of what happens when that isn’t done. They were venting a huge volume of natural gas out a pipe that was rigged up inside a sheltered area that was surrounded by catwalks and equipment. They also had live welding torches and open flame heaters within this area less than 100 feet from where the gas was coming out.

    It has the potential to explode and for that reason if I ever hear a loud hiss and smell gas (or rather Butanethiol) I’m not going to just sit there and light some incense to kill the smell.

            kendallcorner said:

    But like I said, I’m a big fan of Nuclear … unless it puts me out of business.

    I very much doubt that. You’re a chemical engineer? If anything, a lot of energy should benefit your field. It would be nice if chlorine production and that kind of thing started to move back to the US from China. There’s plenty of other stuff that could be done. Ideally I’d love to see a day when the available energy makes it economical to turn the organic matter in sewage sludge into jet fuel.


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  18. 18
    kendallcorner Says:

    I’ve never heard of those. They do sound a bit scary.

    Oil & Gas is certainly dangerous, and it’s usually when safety procedures are not followed that accidents happen. We are just a bit touchy about LNG here, because like nuclear, it gets a pretty bad rap, so we tend to try to defend it and keep it from getting lumped in with everything else when and where we can.

    But it’s mostly people (*cough* idiot celebrities *cough*) like this guy
    http://www.timrileylaw.com (beware! embedded midi that you can’t turn off!)
    who are out to get it. Terrible website, but he’s pretty famous in the LNG industry for being a crackpot and scaring the **** out of people.


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  19. 19
    kendallcorner Says:

    oops. your site is censored. Sorry!


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  20. 20
    drbuzz0 Says:

            kendallcorner said:

    oops. your site is censored. Sorry!

    Yeah, it’s because there are schools and businesses that filter sites by word occurrence and I want to avoid being flagged. I’m not a prude, I assure you.

    regarding the balloon and expansion gas holders: They were built primarily up to the mid 1980′s, but were even more popular in decades past. They now are used for natural gas but in the early days it was town gas (synthetic gas from coal)

    here’s a Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_holder

    There is a well known gas holder near “The Oval” Cricketgrounds.

    Here it is empty: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3186/2746778807_0083b2d9b6.jpg
    Here it is partially filled: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4a/Gasholders_at_the_Oval.JPG/800px-Gasholders_at_the_Oval.JPG

    About Half filled: http://www.act365.com/cricket/images/OvalGasholder.jpg

    At near capacity: http://cache2.asset-cache.net/xc/3401993.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=45B0EB3381F7834D46AA5D854F999D45EC066E20491FF85905AFC5CF6109BBC7

    At full capacity: http://cache1.asset-cache.net/xc/3279137.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=45B0EB3381F7834D0CA89BA1248630FB8FEE505CF92D5D5F5223CE6E4BAF89B1


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  21. 21
    kendallcorner Says:

    Yeah, I can see how those would make one nervous. The possibility of static electricity from the thing moving is what I wouldn’t like. But they must not be terrible if they’re still in use. I suppose (thankfully?) that they don’t build them anymore, or I surely would have heard of them or at least have some failure rate data on them. We deal mostly in new facilities.


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  22. 22
    Ray1952 Says:

            kendallcorner said:

    Yeah, I can see how those would make one nervous. The possibility of static electricity from the thing moving is what I wouldn’t like. But they must not be terrible if they’re still in use. I suppose (thankfully?) that they don’t build them anymore, or I surely would have heard of them or at least have some failure rate data on them. We deal mostly in new facilities.

    Oh those things were a disiaster waiting to happen and they exploded on several occasions, but none that I know of recently. I’m sure these days they take better steps to try to make them safer with the materials used and everything, but back in their hayday they blew up on a semi-regular basis. They’re Victorian technology. It’s amazing so many are still used in the UK and some other European countries.

    I don’t think there are any left stateside, surely no big ones left.

    One of the very very strange episodes happened in Pittsburgh in 1927. One of them started leaking. They sent a repairman to find the leak. He decided to use a torch to try to find it (a torch meaning an open flame, not a flashlight) He found it, but he caused a small explosion that dislodged the gas holder and flung it into the air apparently the damn thing shot up into the air, as it was just a big tank made of thin material and canvas and methane being lighter than air, it floated like a balloon, a flaming balloon, which then exploded.

    Here’s a brief wikipedia entry
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1927_Pittsburgh_gas_explosion


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  23. 23
    kendallcorner Says:

    Haha. wow. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) by how many gas accidents are caused by someone trying to find a leak by waving an open flame in front of it …


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  24. 24
    Life's A Gas: Vienna's Recycled, Repurposed Gasometers | Design + Ideas on WU Says:

    [...] via: Deleted Cranium and Greenland [...]


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  25. 25
    Gas Safe Plumber Says:

    Interesting article and it’s shocking to see the devastations that natural gas has caused. Natural gas can sometimes go unnoticed by people but it does produce a sulphur smell.


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  26. 26
    Matthew Says:

            Gas Safe Plumber said:

    Interesting article and it’s shocking to see the devastations that natural gas has caused. Natural gas can sometimes go unnoticed by people but it does produce a sulphur smell.

    As i understand it, the sulfur smell is actually an additive, to let people detect gas links.


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  27. 27
    Heating Engineers Says:

    I wasn’t aware that there have been so many gas accidents; it’s upsetting to see the damaged that has been caused.


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  28. 28
    Anon Says:

    What is it with URLs with 247 at the end of them?


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  29. 29
    Natural Gas: Pros and Cons Says:

    [...] dioxide when burnedContains 80-95% methane, a potent greenhouse gas (GHG)Explosive, potentially dangerousConcentrated sources require long distance transmission and transportationEnergy penalties at every [...]


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  30. 30
    Four Major Energy Sources: Their Pros and Cons — U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce Says:

    [...] Explosive, potentially dangerous [...]


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