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Educating on Natural Gas Odorization

Gas Odorization History | From Water Gas to Natural Gas

From water gas to natural gas, the addition of an odorant to gas, or gas odorization has always been driven by the desire to keep people safe.

Town Gas Naturally Reeks

In Europe, during the early 1800s and the initial stages of the gas industry, town gas was manufactured for lighting and heating. This gas was produced from the carbonization of coal and contained mostly hydrogen and carbon monoxide and was obviously poisonous. The gas also contained sulfur compounds and innately had a gassy odor so that if there ever was a leak it was perceived through the sense of smell.

First Odorized Gas

The first odorization (i.e. adding an odorant to gas so that it is detectable by smell), occurred in Germany during the 1880s. In that situation, Von Quaglio added ethyl mercaptan to water gas to intentionally reproduce the gassy odor associated with town gas to make it detectable.

Tragically, however, the New London Texas disaster was the impetus to widespread odorization.

Gas odorization history and New London School

Monument by sculptor Matchett Herring Coe from 1939 commemorating the New London School Explosion. On March 18, 1937, a natural gas leak caused an explosion that destroyed the New London School and killed nearly 300 students and teachers.

London School Explosion

The New London Texas economy was boosted in 1930 through an oil find in Rusk County. As a result, the London School was built in 1932 at a cost of $1 million dollars and considered a modern steel-framed building. In 1937, the New London Texas school board decided to cut costs by dropping their contract with United Gas Company. With approval from the superintendent, plumbers tapped a residue gas line from a local oil company to use the green or wet gas. The oil companies typically would flare off this waste gas. Using the waste gas, however, became a common money-saving practice for buildings on the oilfield at that time, although the oil companies did not explicitly authorized its use.

Apparently, the odorless and undetectable natural gas leaked from the connection of the residue line and made its way into the crawlspace which ran the length of the school. The gas built up until a spark ignited the gas and the explosion left behind a collapsed building and as many as 295 deaths.

Gas Odorization

As a result of the disaster, both the United States and Canada began regulating the use of odorants in gas. The current US regulation is 49CFR, 192.625, “Odorization of Gas.” It mandates that any combustible gas within a distribution line and transmission line (exceptions noted in the rules) must contain odorant at the level of 20% (1/5) of the lower explosive limit so that a person with a “typical” sense of smell can detect it. To read the current regulations we have posted them at  What are the Natural Gas Odorization Regulations?

10 Comments

  1. Wow. Almost every kid in town – gone.

  2. Of all the subjects ive haf a discussion about this one of the obscure topict that google had the answer to brovo.

  3. THE DEATH OF THE FAMILY IN MEXICO WAS FROM A GAS LEAK IN THE WATER HEATER DOES MEXICO INSTALL THE SAME CHEMICAL IN THEIR NATURAL GAS AS WE DOE IN THE USA

    • I was wondering the same thing and cannot find an answer anywhere.

    • A lady just died from a gas explosion at a 5-star resort (in her villa) I go to every year in Cabo. These villas rent for between $1200-$1500 per night for last minute guests. The answer came back to me that no they don’t odorize the gas in Mexico and it is a really big problem.

    • My son and I were almost killed by carbon monoxide due to a leaking seal in a hot water tank in a rented house. No, we did not get a settlement and we have been trying to get our health back for the past 12 years. There is no smell to this kind of leak and it can go on for months before it completely ruptures. There is no smell because Carbon Monoxide is a by-product of a gas that is not fully burned. So the smell of natural gas has burned up but not the by-product Carbon Monoxide.

    • Mexico City is one of the last large cities that doesn’t have pipes delivery of natural gas but relies on propane delivery. Propane, unlike, natural gas, is heavier than air and can pool as a gas in low areas and basements.

      https://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/01/30/propane-delivery-part-daily-life-in-mexico-but-deadly-explosion-draws-calls-to.html

  4. ah censorship of the web means you can ask a question and the answer isnt there , i mean all i want to know is when natural gas was first given its modern scent in the UK …no answer exists back to the library for me

    • Approximately 1937 for US andCanada 😊

    • this is what I found.
      From:
      International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control
      Volume 37, June 2015, Pages 504-512
      International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control
      Odourisation of CO2 pipelines in the UK: Historical and current impacts of smell during gas transport
      https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S175058361500153X

      2.3.2. Reformed gas
      Technical advances improved the efficiency of gas manufacture. >>From the late 1950’s, various high temperature reforming processes were utilised to make gas from petroleum products such as naphtha or propane; this reformed gas (gas produced from oil) had no discernible odour associated with it (Sonley, 2012). In keeping with the regulations as outlined by the Gas Acts during that time, a method of detection was necessary. <<At the time, operations were controlled by twelve area Gas Boards, which were governed by the Gas Council. Discussions took place to add a smell, which would be suitable and meet the Gas Acts requirements. Based on the odourants used in America, thiolane (THT, (CH2)4S) a saturated analogue of thiophene was selected (Sonley, 2012). Additionally, many of the coal gas pipes were reused which retained the distinct coal gas odour. This meant the reformed gas also retained the familiar warning smell the public were accustomed to for a limited amount of time.

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