How to Ensure Safety Around Compressed Natural Gas

Compressed Natural Gas or CNG is a popular alternative fuel option being used the world over, since CNG powered vehicles emit less greenhouse gases as compared to other fuel types, such as gasoline (petrol) and diesel. Federal tax credits are also available on such vehicles, since they reduce the country’s dependency on foreign oil imports, while also lowering the environmental impact.

While CNG is relatively safe to use in vehicles, incorrect handling of this natural gas during production, storage or transportation can have a really devastating impact on the environment, given that CNG is nothing but methane stored at high temperatures. Any leak can be hard to detect because methane is a colorless, odorless and invisible gas. The resulting expenses for an oil and gas company, on account of claims and litigation costs arising out of a disaster, can be huge, as is evident from a recent example:

Dubbed as the worst methane gas leak in the history of the United States, the amount of methane gas that leaked in late October 2015 at the Aliso Canyon field near Porter Ranch, Los Angeles, had the same 20-year climate change impact as burning nearly a billion gallons of gasoline, says the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Southern California Gas Co, responsible for the facility, has to now deal with several lawsuits. One such lawsuit, filed by air quality regulators, will result in a $8.5 million settlement, reported the Los Angeles Times.

I run a CNG refueling service and have been following such news and regulations closely for over a decade now. My most important learning was about solenoid valves.

Importance of High Pressure Solenoid Valves

Solenoid valves play an important role in regulating the flow of CNG in the dispensing equipment. During refilling operations, these valves can be used to direct the flow of gases to and from the correct tanks and to the unit being refueled. It is, therefore, important to use high pressure and good quality solenoid valves in such equipment.

There are four important things to remember before selecting the best valve for your needs, suggests Clark Cooper, a company that has been manufacturing solenoid valves for over a century now:

  1. Pressure going into the valve
  2. Type and state of the fluid
  3. Size of the pipe connections to the valve, and
  4. Voltage

These valves are also used in Emergency Shut-down (ESD) applications. ESD systems are designed to protect personnel and equipment, and prevent any environmental damage, as was witnesses in the Aliso Canyon leaks. The use of these valves can vary, depending on the complexity of the production facility and the desired outcome. These can be used to prevent access to certain areas of the production facility, restrict access to one particular process or to completely shut down the entire facility.

In addition, employers must follow the guidelines as prescribed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for handling natural gas. Adherence to these guidelines is in their best interest as any disaster can have huge economic ramifications on their business.