Gas safety and detecting gas leaks

Methane is a gas that is present in nearly all of our planet's soil, air and water. Though it is harmless in low concentrations, it poses an immediate danger through its explosive properties in gas delivery networks. These incidents can take place following leaks and blockages in gas systems and can cause hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages, as well as endangering human and environmental health.

While methane is an important long-term cause of climate change, it is also a direct source of combustible fuel for commercial and domestic applications and is considered a cleaner alternative to coal and oil. While some of the gas comes from natural sources, much of it comes from human activity.

What is methane?

Methane is a colourless and odourless gas that is produced by biological activity. The main sources of methane are landfills which produce methane as a byproduct of natural decomposition processes, animal agriculture where methane is produced by the digestion process in livestock, and natural methane sinks. Natural methane sinks are deposits of methane that are usually trapped deep underground or in permafrost and peat bogs.

In its raw form, natural gas contains methane, as well as other gases and trace elements such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Additionally, it can also contain toxic compounds and heavy metals that can be damaging to human health and can cause environmental pollution. When treated so its composition falls within set parameters, methane is used as a safe fuel that has a smaller environmental impact than widely used fossil fuels.

Methane leaks

As methane is odourless and colourless it's easy to miss large methane leaks. It can be difficult to spot them without specialised equipment, which is why site operators rely on trained inspectors equipped with methane-detection cameras to check for leaks, in addition to having sensors in place throughout the gas system. Although natural gas leaks have a global impact, the effects of most incidents are local. Even small gas leaks can cause fires in the right environments, such as leaking pipelines in arid areas leading to brush fires.

Methane leaks may also cause explosions in extreme cases, and these can lead to expensive damage to infrastructure, as well as potentially risking human health. While serious explosive events are rare, their occurrence always leads to increased scrutiny, and investigations usually uncover information leading to better policy and safer gas management in the industry as a whole, such as how to reduce methane emissions from landfills and how to detect gas leaks in their early stages.

When caught early enough, a gas leak may not have the chance to build up into explosive levels which dramatically reduces the likelihood of such events. This is why it is critical to find leaks as soon as possible. It is possible to detect and contain methane emissions at their source, and it is easy to identify potential for future methane leaks if you know about areas of your system that are compromised before they fail by inspecting and testing equipment regularly. With the right landfill gas monitoring technology, you can stop these methane emissions in their tracks.

Methane detection methods

While it's difficult to detect methane leaks with the naked eye, you can use leak detection devices that make the process extremely simple. These devices will alert you to methane emissions, and many will provide you with advanced data on emission levels and gas concentrations. These devices are also important for monitoring methane concentrations in the air in and around potential sources of methane.

Unlike other types of emissions, methane or natural gas leaks in a landfill environment will tend to cause no health problems as they tend to be well ventilated. The main problem comes when methane or natural gas is allowed to accumulate in enclosed areas, and breathing this air can lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea and other health issues.

Environmental concerns

While methane leaks are dangerous to the environment and must be properly managed by natural gas production sites, it's also a major challenge for the energy industry as a whole. While major leaks are quickly fixed, minor ones can continue for months or even years without detection. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and a significant contributor to climate change, consequently, it is vital to find methane leaks and take steps to reduce the risk of further methane emissions.

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