Natural gas provides clean, efficient, and economical energy and is considered the most environmentally friendly of the fossil fuels. In late 18th century Great Britain, natural gas from coal was used to illuminate homes and streets and by the early 1800s, other countries followed suit. Today, natural gas is used to power a wide range of consumer appliances including furnaces, fireplaces, clothes dryers, and stoves. Natural gas provides 29 percent of the total energy supply and generates an estimated 33 percent of electricity in the U.S. Currently, there are more than 74 million residential, commercial, and industrial natural gas customers across America.
Like nearly all sources of energy, natural gas can present safety risks if handled improperly. It produces nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and methane when it burns. It's highly flammable and easily ignited by matches, sparks, light switches, telephones, radios, flares, two-way radios, doorbells, cell phones, automobile motors, etc.
Pure natural gas is odorless, colorless, and nontoxic. Since 1937, an odorant that smells like rotten eggs has been added to natural gas to aid in its detection and potential gas leaks. This distinctive aroma is produced by sulfur-based compounds called thiols or mercaptans. In the event of a natural gas leak indoors, you’ll probably notice this characteristic smell, as well as bubbles in the water, a damaged gas pipe, or dead houseplants. Additional outdoor signs include:
If you suspect a leak in your outdoor residential meter, brush it with a solution of dish soap and water. Heavy leaks will produce large, billowy bubbles that can help pinpoint the source of the escaping gas, while smaller leaks will emit tiny soapsuds. Beyond trying this tip, never attempt to fix a gas leak yourself.
Gas leaks can cause an array of physical problems related to reduced oxygen levels in the air, including:
Pets can also experience some of these symptoms, as well as vomiting and changes in their behavior (e.g. acting disoriented). If your symptoms are severe, call 911 or go directly to the closest hospital emergency department. And if you’re feeling fine but your pet isn’t, take them to the vet as soon as possible.
Under proper operating conditions, natural gas produces heat, carbon dioxide, and water vapor. But incomplete combustion can produce carbon monoxide (CO), an odorless, poisonous, and potentially fatal gas. Signs of incomplete combustion include a yellow flame (blue is normal) or combustion odors and soot around the front of your furnace or water heater. Every consumer should install a CO detector in their home.
At Avista, we take great care to maintain the reliability and safe condition of our natural gas pipeline system, according to strict standards used by our company and required of the pipeline industry. Our crews routinely inspect all our pipelines to detect gas leaks. We also conduct training and periodic drills to prevent and prepare for natural gas emergencies. Despite our efforts, natural gas leaks may occur that could lead to fires or explosions. We need everyone’s help to prevent pipeline damage and reduce the risk of dangerous gas leaks.