Natural gas occurs in its rawest state as a colorless, odorless gas formed over millions of years within the Earth. It has resulted from millenniums of compression of decomposing organic materials in the same way that other fossil fuels were created. Consumers access natural gas through millions of miles of pipelines that extract the hydrocarbons from their earthen reservoirs, remove impurities and transport it as mostly methane gas.
If you have a gas stove, there are about five to 15 parts per million of natural gas in the air inside your home. More than 30 parts per million crosses into dangerous levels of natural gas and indicates a faulty stove. How do you know if the methane levels in your house are safe? You can buy a natural gas detector or a carbon monoxide detector that will sound an alarm if gas levels exceed a safety threshold.
We use methane, also known as natural gas, in gas stoves, heaters, water heaters and ovens. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from methane peaks during the winter because we heat our homes. Often, houses aren't ventilated in the winter to retain that heat. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, particularly in the wintertime, you can install a carbon monoxide detector. Like most of these devices, an alarm will sound if the air contains a high level of the gas.
While natural gas used indoors can pose health risks, the greatest chance for a natural gas leak happens outdoors. Since more than 2 million miles of natural gas pipeline funnels the fuel underground in the United States, you must take caution when digging in your yard. Signs of a broken natural gas pipe include dirt blowing up from the ground on a windless day, a hissing sound or bubbling water.
If you plan to do any deep digging around your house, call 811 for the national Underground Service Alert network a few business days prior to digging. The free service will map out any utilities, including gas pipelines, buried beneath your land. Striking a pipeline can endanger your life since the gas is highly explosive and could disrupt natural gas service to surrounding homes [source: Reuters].
For related information on natural gas, visit the links on the next page.