Natural gas safety precautions in place

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — While still trying to hook up natural gas to its first customer, Carroll County held a meeting April 25 to impress on citizens the safety measures needed in case something goes wrong with the service in the future.
Dennis Cole, who managed the gas line project for Carroll County, stressed that if anyone hears a roar of gas escaping the line or smells the odorizer that goes in with the gas to get out of the area and to call emergency officials.


“The intent of this project is to provide natural gas initially for Mohawk Industries,” Cole explained at the meeting’s outset to the 14 or so people in attendance. “Mohawk is going through a conversion — or will be through a conversion as soon as we can get the gas flowing  — converting their oil burning boilers to natural gas,  which is going to help them save a lot of money, which is going to help them to retain jobs in Carroll County.”
The safety outreach is a requirement of the State Corporation Commission as Carroll forms the natural gas utility service, he added.
Work continues to connect the East Tennessee Natural Gas pipeline to a distribution system to supply Mohawk with the gas, Cole explained. As part of that, the equipment will reduce the pressure from 1,400 PSI coming out of the pipeline down to a usable 50 pounds of pressure.
County officials reached out to people that will be within a quarter mile of the local distribution line and invited them to the safety meeting.
“Because, quite frankly, this is going to be the first area we’re going to try to develop,” Cole said.
Though natural gas doesn’t have an odor by itself, a device call an odorizer will pump the smell that’s associated with the gas into the line, he added. Cole referred to a scratch-and-sniff pamphlet that will be periodically mailed out to persons on the line so they can recognize the odor if it’s present during a gas leak.
“So that if you smell this and have a concern about a leak, please contact us,” Cole said.
However, many improvements have been made to natural gas systems over the years. Cole cited statistics by the U.S. Department of Transportation that “natural gas delivery systems [have] the best safety record of any delivery method.”
He attributed that to improvements in technology and materials causing a significant decline in natural gas incidents.
From 1991 to 2004, the number of gas utility incidents decreased by more than 25 percent, even though hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines were added, for example, Cole said. All the most critical buildings in the country — the White House, the Pentagon and the Capitol — are all served by natural gas.
Federal and state requirements on the construction of lines are both very strict — those involved in the industry watch the quality of pipeline construction down to the millimeters, Cole said.
A variety of markers and warning devices will follow the route of the distribution line to promote safety, he explained. Besides the markers that help find the position of the line, a person attempting to dig in the vicinity of a gas line would first come across tracer wire and caution tape before they would run into the line, which will be more than three feet underground.
“So, hopefully, before anybody gets to the point where they start getting into the pipe, they have to go through the tape and they have to go through the wire, two things that should tell them to stop,” Cole said.
Of course, anyone who plans to do any excavating should call the Miss Utility service first at 811.
After the safety portion of the meeting, Cole compared the natural gas service to how the Public Service Authority makes water and sewer available to citizens and moves to expand its areas when possible.
“It will grow, hopefully, as we move along,” he noted about the gas service.
The number of potential customers equals the population of Carroll County.
“Our intent is to expand the line... it is a utility and it is a utility that we do want to expand and create as much of the service as possible,” Cole said.
The county in the future will ask its citizens who would want to sign a service agreement, he said. Officials will look for concentrations of potential customers to serve.
A Hillsville firefighter was on hand at the meeting and asked if there was anything emergency responders needed to know about the natural gas project.
Cole answered there will be a separate meeting with emergency personnel for that purpose. “As a first responder your main purpose will be to make sure people are safe.”
Cole estimated it will be around two weeks before gas will come online, but that’s been a moving target.