Natural Gas Safety concerns
The natural gas extraction workforce face unique health and safety challenges and is recognized by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as a priority industry sector in the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) to identify and provide intervention strategies regarding occupational health and safety issues.
Some gas fields yield sour gas containing hydrogen sulfide (H 2S), a toxic compound when inhaled. Amine gas treating, an industrial scale process which removes acidic gaseous components, is often used to remove hydrogen sulfide from natural gas.
Extraction of natural gas (or oil) leads to decrease in pressure in the reservoir. Such decrease in pressure in turn may result in subsidence, sinking of the ground above. Subsidence may affect ecosystems, waterways, sewer and water supply systems, foundations, and so on.
Main article: Environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing
Releasing natural gas from subsurface porous rock formations may be accomplished by a process called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking". It is estimated that hydraulic fracturing will eventually account for nearly 70% of natural gas development in North America.Since the first commercial hydraulic fracturing operation in 1949, approximately one million wells have been hydraulically fractured in the United States. The production of natural gas from hydraulically fractured wells has utilized the technological developments of directional and horizontal drilling, which improved access to natural gas in tight rock formations.Strong growth in the production of unconventional gas from hydraulically fractured wells occurred between 2000–2012.
In hydraulic fracturing, well operators force water mixed with a variety of chemicals through the wellbore casing into the rock. The high pressure water breaks up or "fracks" the rock, which releases gas from the rock formation. Sand and other particles are added to the water as a proppant to keep the fractures in the rock open, thus enabling the gas to flow into the casing and then to the surface. Chemicals are added to the fluid to perform such functions as reducing friction and inhibiting corrosion. After the "frack," oil or gas is extracted and 30–70% of the frack fluid, i.e. the mixture of water, chemicals, sand, etc., flows back to the surface. Many gas-bearing formations also contain water, which will flow up the wellbore to the surface along with the gas, in both hydraulically fractured and non-hydraulically fractured wells. This produced water often has a high content of salt and other dissolved minerals that occur in the formation.
The volume of water used to hydraulically fracture wells varies according to the hydraulic fracturing technique. In the United States, the average volume of water used per hydraulic fracture has been reported as nearly 7,375 gallons for vertical oil and gas wells prior to 1953, nearly 197,000 gallons for vertical oil and gas wells between 2000–2010, and nearly 3 million gallons for horizontal gas wells between 2000–2010.
Determining which fracking technique is appropriate for well productivity depends largely on the properties of the reservoir rock from which to extract oil or gas. If the rock is characterized by low-permeability — which refers to its ability to let substances, i.e. gas, pass through it, then the rock may be considered a source of tight gas. Fracking for shale gas, which is currently also known as a source of unconventional gas, involves drilling a borehole vertically until it reaches a lateral shale rock formation, at which point the drill turns to follow the rock for hundreds or thousands of feet horizontally. In contrast, conventional oil and gas sources are characterized by higher rock permeability, which naturally enables the flow of oil or gas into the wellbore with less intensive hydraulic fracturing techniques than the production of tight gas has required. The decades in development of drilling technology for conventional and unconventional oil and gas production has not only improved access to natural gas in low-permeability reservoir rocks, but also posed significant adverse impacts on environmental and public health.
The US EPA has acknowledged that toxic, carcinogenic chemicals, i.e. benzene and ethylbenzene, have been used as gelling agents in water and chemical mixtures for high volume horizontal fracturing (HVHF). Following the hydraulic fracture in HVHF, the water, chemicals, and frack fluid that return to the well's surface, called flowback or produced water, may contain radioactive materials, heavy metals, natural salts, and hydrocarbons which exist naturally in shale rock formations. Fracking chemicals, radioactive materials, heavy metals, and salts that are removed from the HVHF well by well operators are so difficult to remove from the water they're mixed with, and would so heavily pollute the water cycle, that most of the flowback is either recycled into other fracking operations or injected into deep underground wells, eliminating the water that HVHF required from the hydrologic cycle.
Natural gas in its native state is colorless and almost odorless. In order to assist consumers in detecting leaks, an odorizer with a scent similar to rotten eggs, tert-Butylthiol (t-butyl mercaptan), is added. Sometimes a related compound, thiophane, may be used in the mixture. Situations in which an odorant that is added to natural gas can be detected by analytical instrumentation, but cannot be properly detected by an observer with a normal sense of smell, have occurred in the natural gas industry. This is caused by odor masking, when one odorant overpowers the sensation of another. As of 2011, the industry is conducting research on the causes of odor masking.
Explosions caused by natural gas leaks occur a few times each year. Individual homes, small businesses and other structures are most frequently affected when an internal leak builds up gas inside the structure. Frequently, the blast is powerful enough to significantly damage a building but leave it standing. In these cases, the people inside tend to have minor to moderate injuries. Occasionally, the gas can collect in high enough quantities to cause a deadly explosion, disintegrating one or more buildings in the process. Many building codes now forbid the installation of gas pipes inside cavity walls and/or below floor boards to mitigate against this risk. The gas usually dissipates readily outdoors, but can sometimes collect in dangerous quantities if flow rates are high enough. From 1994 through 2013, the United States had 745 serious incidents with gas distribution, causing 278 fatalities and 1059 injuries, with $110,658,083 in property damage. However, considering the tens of millions of structures that use the fuel, the individual risk of using natural gas is very low.
Risk of carbon monoxide inhalation[edit source]
Natural gas heating systems may cause carbon monoxide poisoning if unvented or poorly vented. In 2011, natural gas furnaces, space heaters, water heaters and stoves were blamed for 11 carbon monoxide deaths in the US. Another 22 deaths were attributed to appliances running on liquified petroleum gas, and 17 deaths on gas of unspecified type. Improvements in natural gas furnace designs have greatly reduced CO poisoning concerns. Detectors are also available that warn of carbon monoxide and/or explosive gas (methane, propane, etc.).