The gas piping running into and through a facility is an often-overlooked hazard. Natural gas leaks can create an explosive and flammable atmosphere inside a building. Explosions can also occur outside if a gas line is eroded, damaged or struck during construction.

See the related feature article, "How to Prevent Electric Tank Heat Explosions."

In case of an incident, facility staff should review their ability to shut off natural gas both outside at the main shutoff and inside at different locations. They should be able to identify hazards that can lead to unsafe conditions. And, they should have a process in place for emergency evacuations.

Understanding piping can mean the difference between life and death in a time of emergency. Here are 10 tips that will help avoid natural gas piping issues.  

  1. Make sure that the natural gas main, incoming shutoff valve locations are known. These valves should be checked for operability. This will mean exercising them and making sure they have handles.
  2. Make sure that the proper main shutoff valves are identified in some manner. Some incoming services have numerous valves, which could be confusing in a crisis. It would be terrible to think that gas is being shut off when instead a bypass was being opened.
  3. Make sure that your natural gas incoming main is secured in a fenced and locked area. Have a key and procedures for access.
  4. If you main incoming natural gas service is not secured with a fence and locks, consider whether it should be. Also, make sure that emergency contact numbers and “No Smoking” signs are properly posted near this equipment.
  5. Review your site's natural gas distribution systems inside the plant to make sure it is understood how the piping is networked and where important system shutoff valves are located. Make sure these critical network valves are accessible, operable and have handles installed.
  6. Communicate the locations of emergency shutoff valves - both inside and outside the site - to the local fire department.
  7. Review your site's emergency disaster plans for the locations where people will evacuate in the case of an incident.
  8. Review the conditions upon which a boiler house or process area would be evacuated. Make sure that in processes where an orderly shutdown is required, personnel understand what procedures are to be followed.
  9. Consider the impact and importance that electrical systems and the sudden loss of power can have on combustion equipment. In some cases, a loss in electrical power can cause control systems to restart in an unsafe environment. Review operations with an eye toward which control systems and operations need to be on emergency power or battery backup.
  10. Make sure emergency contact information is up to date. This includes reviewing emergency and management personnel phone numbers - home, cell and pagers. Consider that many gas utilities have merged or changed names. They also may have changed emergency contact information. Consider supplementing your list with disaster resource number information such as the names and phone numbers of sources for boilers, generators, and even fuel suppliers (propane or oil).


Note: This article was originally published with the headline, "Don't Add Fuel to the Fire," in August 2011 by Process Heating magazine.