A Guide to Natural Gas Explosions in Homes and Businesses

by | Feb 5, 2024 | Catastrophic Injury, Explosion, Natural Gas Explosions, Oil and Gas Incidents, Pipeline Explosions

Natural gas is a common energy source used in homes and businesses for heating, cooking, and powering various appliances. While it is a convenient and efficient fuel, it comes with inherent risks. One of the most serious threats is the potential for natural gas explosions. Understanding the causes, signs, and preventive measures is crucial for ensuring the safety of individuals and properties.

In this guide, the oil and gas injury lawyers at Kherkher Garcia provide useful information about natural gas, including details on natural gas explosions, injuries, and how to reduce the risk of a tragic explosion. After reading our guide, if you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

A Basic Guide to Natural Gas

Natural gas is a versatile and widely used energy source in homes and businesses for various purposes, including heating, cooking, and powering appliances. Understanding the basics of natural gas, its properties, and its applications is essential for safe and efficient use in residential and commercial settings.

Composition and Properties

  • Main Component: Natural gas primarily consists of methane (CH₄), a hydrocarbon compound.
  • Color and Odor: Natural gas is colorless and odorless. However, for safety reasons, an odorant with a distinctive smell (usually described as a rotten egg or sulfur odor) is added to aid in leak detection.
  • Flammability: Methane is highly flammable, making natural gas an efficient and effective energy source.

Sources and Production

  • Fossil Fuel Origin: Natural gas is a fossil fuel, primarily formed from the remains of ancient marine microorganisms.
  • Extraction: It is extracted from underground reservoirs through drilling and is often found alongside crude oil deposits.
  • Processing: After extraction, natural gas undergoes processing to remove impurities and other hydrocarbons before being transported.

Distribution and Infrastructure

  • Pipeline Networks: Natural gas is transported through an extensive network of pipelines. These pipelines connect production facilities to distribution points and, eventually, to homes and businesses.
  • Storage: Some natural gas is stored in underground storage facilities to meet fluctuating demand.

Applications in Homes

  • Heating: Natural gas is commonly used for space heating, either through central heating systems or individual room heaters.
  • Cooking: Gas stoves and ovens are popular in households, providing precise temperature control and quick heat adjustment.
  • Water Heating: Gas water heaters efficiently provide hot water for domestic use.
  • Clothes Dryers and Fireplaces: Natural gas is also used in clothes dryers and for fueling gas fireplaces.

Applications in Businesses

  • Space Heating and Cooling: Commercial buildings often use natural gas for heating and, in some cases, for cooling through natural gas-powered HVAC systems.
  • Cooking and Food Service: Restaurants and commercial kitchens frequently use natural gas for cooking due to its responsiveness and control.
  • Power Generation: Natural gas is a common fuel for power plants, generating electricity for various industries.
  • Industrial Processes: Some industries use natural gas as a feedstock or fuel for specific manufacturing processes.

Safety Measures

  • Odorant for Leak Detection: The distinctive odor added to natural gas allows for the detection of leaks.
  • Regular Inspections: Routine inspections of gas appliances, pipelines, and equipment are essential for identifying and addressing potential issues.
  • Emergency Shut-off Procedures: Users should be familiar with the location and operation of emergency shut-off valves to quickly respond to gas leaks.

Environmental Considerations

  • Cleaner Burning: Compared to some other fossil fuels, natural gas is considered a cleaner-burning option, producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy.
  • Transition Fuel: In the context of environmental sustainability, natural gas is sometimes seen as a transition fuel toward renewable energy sources.

Regulations and Compliance

  • Building Codes: The installation and use of natural gas systems in homes and businesses are regulated by building codes to ensure safety and compliance.
  • Professional Installation: Certified professionals are typically required for the installation, maintenance, and repair of natural gas systems.

Understanding the basics of natural gas is vital for promoting safety, energy efficiency, and responsible usage in both residential and commercial settings. As technologies evolve and the energy landscape shifts, continued awareness and adherence to safety practices will play a crucial role in the sustainable use of natural gas.

How Common are Natural Gas Explosions?

Because there are so many variations of incident that may fall under the term “explosion”, it is difficult to determine exactly how many natural gas explosions occur each year. However, there are some estimates available from reputable organizations that can give us an idea of how common and dangerous natural gas explosions can be:

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

The NFPA reports an average of 125,000 residential gas leaks and 4,200 gas-ignited home fires annually. While this doesn’t specify explosions, it suggests a frequent occurrence of gas incidents.

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)

The PHMSA tracks pipeline incidents, reporting an average of 155 incidents related to distribution pipelines annually. Perhaps not all of these incidents are explosions, but some likely are. The PHMSA also estimates that between 1998 and 2017, natural gas distribution incidents averaged 15 deaths per year.

Not all explosions make headlines, so these figures likely underestimate the actual occurrence. This is particularly alarming when you consider that some general estimates quote a range of 286 to 400 serious explosions per year, causing property damage, injuries, or fatalities.

What are the Primary Causes of Natural Gas Explosions?

Natural gas explosions in homes and businesses are typically caused by factors related to the ignition of the gas. Some common causes include:

  • Gas Leaks: The most common cause of natural gas explosions is a leak in the gas supply system. Gas leaks can occur due to damaged or aging pipelines, faulty connections, or poorly maintained appliances. The odorless nature of natural gas is often addressed by adding a distinct odorant (usually a sulfur or rotten egg smell) to help detect leaks.
  • Faulty Appliances: Malfunctioning or improperly installed gas appliances, such as stoves, ovens, water heaters, or furnaces, can lead to gas leaks. Issues may include faulty valves, burners, or connectors.
  • Open Flames or Sparks: The presence of open flames, such as pilot lights, candles, or sparks from electrical equipment, can ignite natural gas if it is present in sufficient quantities.
  • Appliance or Pipeline Damage: Physical damage to gas pipelines or appliances, whether due to natural disasters, construction activities, or accidents, can result in gas leaks and potential explosions.
  • Corrosion: Over time, corrosion can weaken gas pipelines, making them more susceptible to leaks. Corrosion may result from exposure to elements or chemical reactions within the pipes.
  • Improper Repairs or Modifications: Unqualified individuals attempting to repair or modify gas systems without proper knowledge and expertise may inadvertently introduce safety hazards.
  • Human Error: Accidental actions, such as accidentally turning on the wrong burner or improperly shutting off gas appliances, can contribute to gas leaks.

To minimize the risk of natural gas explosions, it is crucial to follow safety guidelines, conduct regular maintenance of gas appliances, install proper ventilation systems, and promptly address any suspected gas leaks by contacting the local gas utility or emergency services.

What are the Signs of a Natural Gas Leak?

Recognizing the signs of a gas leak is crucial for prompt action and preventing potential disasters. Some common indicators include:

Rotten Egg Smell

Natural gas is odorless, but an odorant with a distinct sulfur or rotten egg smell is added to make leaks easily detectable. If you notice this odor, it is a strong indication of a gas leak. Even a faint smell should be taken seriously.

Hissing or Whistling Sounds

Leaking gas can sometimes produce a hissing or whistling sound, especially near gas lines, appliances, or connections. If you hear unusual noises, investigate promptly.

Dead or Dying Vegetation

Gas leaks in outdoor pipelines can affect vegetation. If you observe an area of dead or dying plants, particularly if it is near a gas line, it could be a sign of a leak.

Bubbling in Standing Water

Gas escaping from underground pipes can cause bubbling in standing water, such as puddles or ditches. If you notice bubbles rising to the surface, it may indicate a gas leak.

Unexplained Physical Symptoms

Exposure to natural gas can cause symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, headaches, fatigue, or respiratory issues. If multiple individuals in a confined space experience these symptoms simultaneously, it could be a sign of a gas leak.

Ill or Dying Pets

Animals can be more sensitive to gas leaks than humans. If pets seem lethargic, exhibit difficulty breathing, or if there is unexplained illness or death among animals, it may be a warning sign.

Unexplained Increase in Gas Bills

A sudden, unexplained increase in your gas bill without a corresponding increase in usage may indicate a leak. Gas companies typically use meters to measure consumption, so a noticeable change in billing patterns may suggest a problem.

Electronic Gas Detectors Alarming

Some homes and businesses are equipped with electronic gas detectors. If such a device is present and begins alarming, it is crucial to take immediate action. Follow any provided instructions and evacuate the premises.

What to Do if You Suspect a Natural Gas Leak

If you suspect a natural gas leak, it’s important to take the following steps:

  • Evacuate Immediately: Leave the building or area where the gas leak is suspected. Do not use electrical switches, appliances, or devices, including phones, as they could create sparks.
  • Avoid Flames and Sparks: Do not light matches, candles, or cigarettes. Avoid using any open flames or creating sparks.
  • Do Not Use Phones Inside the Building: Go to a safe location outside the building to call your gas utility’s emergency line or the emergency services. They will provide guidance on how to proceed.
  • Wait for Professionals: Do not re-enter the building until the gas company or emergency responders have deemed it safe to do so.

Remember that the sense of smell varies among individuals, and some people may not detect the odorant added to natural gas. Installing gas detectors in homes and businesses can provide an additional layer of safety by alerting occupants to the presence of gas even if they cannot smell it. Regular maintenance of gas appliances and periodic inspections of gas lines are also essential for preventing leaks and ensuring the safe use of natural gas.

Measures to Reduce the Risk of Natural Gas Leaks and Explosions

There are some things that homeowners and businesses can do to reduce the risk of natural gas-related disasters. Some of the most common recommendations include:

Regular Inspections

Routine inspections of gas pipelines, appliances, and ventilation systems can help identify potential issues before they escalate. Professional inspections by licensed technicians are recommended to ensure the safety and reliability of the gas system.

Proper Installation

Professional installation of gas appliances and pipelines is essential to minimize the risk of leaks. Certified technicians have the expertise to install equipment according to safety standards, reducing the likelihood of malfunctions.

Adequate Ventilation

Ensuring proper ventilation in enclosed spaces where gas appliances are used helps prevent the buildup of gas concentrations. Adequate airflow helps disperse any leaked gas, reducing the risk of an explosion.

Emergency Shut-off Procedures

Familiarize yourself with the location and operation of emergency shut-off valves. In the event of a suspected gas leak, quickly shutting off the gas supply can mitigate the risk of an explosion. Make sure everyone in the household or workplace knows these procedures.

Gas Leak Detection Devices

Installing gas leak detection devices can provide an additional layer of protection. These devices can alert occupants to the presence of gas, allowing them to evacuate the premises safely and call for professional assistance.

Educate and Raise Awareness

Education is a powerful tool in preventing natural gas explosions. Regularly inform household members or employees about the risks associated with natural gas and the importance of safe handling practices. This includes recognizing the smell of gas, knowing emergency shut-off procedures, and understanding the signs of a potential leak.

What to Do after Injuries or Death Caused by a Natural Gas Explosion

Experiencing injuries or death caused by a natural gas explosion is a tragic and challenging situation. Responding promptly and following appropriate procedures is crucial. Here are steps to take after injuries or death resulting from a natural gas explosion:

For Injuries:

  • Seek Emergency Medical Attention: Immediately call emergency services (911 or the relevant emergency number in your area) to request medical assistance. Prioritize the well-being of those injured.
  • Evacuate the Area: If it is safe to do so, move away from the site of the explosion to a safe location. Evacuate others in the vicinity to prevent further harm.
  • Administer First Aid if Trained: If you are trained in first aid, provide immediate assistance to those with injuries while waiting for professional help. Do not put yourself at risk if the area is still unsafe.
  • Cooperate with Emergency Responders: Provide clear and concise information to emergency responders about the nature and extent of injuries. Follow their instructions and cooperate fully.
  • Identify and Communicate Medical Information: If possible, provide medical personnel with information about any known medical conditions, allergies, or medications of the injured individuals.
  • Document Injuries: If circumstances permit, document injuries with photographs or notes. This information may be valuable for medical professionals and, if necessary, for legal or insurance purposes.

For Deaths:

  • Contact Authorities: Notify local law enforcement and emergency services about the situation. They will secure the area and initiate an investigation.
  • Arrange for Professional Services: Contact a local funeral home to make arrangements for the deceased. Funeral directors can provide guidance on the necessary procedures.
  • Notify Next of Kin: If you are not the next of kin, work with authorities or the deceased person’s employer to ensure that family members are notified promptly and with sensitivity.
  • Coordinate with Authorities: Cooperate with law enforcement, fire departments, and any other relevant authorities as they conduct their investigations. Provide any information you have about the incident.
  • Preserve Evidence: If there is potential for legal actions or investigations, avoid disturbing the scene. Let professionals handle evidence collection to determine the cause of the explosion.
  • Access Support Services: Grieving is a challenging process, and support services such as counseling, religious support, or community organizations can provide assistance during difficult times.

For Both Injuries and Deaths:

  • Contact Legal Representation: If a natural gas explosion involves significant injuries or fatalities, it is advisable to contact legal representation. A skilled oil and gas injury lawyer can help you understand your rights, responsibilities, and potential avenues for compensation.
  • Insurance Claims: If you have insurance coverage, contact your insurance provider to report the incident and initiate the claims process. This may include property damage claims, liability claims, or other relevant coverage.
  • Cooperate with Investigations: Assist authorities and any investigative bodies in their efforts to determine the cause of the explosion. This information is critical for preventing similar incidents in the future and may also be relevant in legal proceedings.
  • Community Support: Seek support from friends, family, and community resources. Coping with the aftermath of a natural gas explosion can be emotionally and physically challenging, and a support network can be invaluable.
  • Stay Informed: Stay informed about the progress of investigations and any safety measures recommended by authorities to prevent further incidents.

Remember that the specific actions to be taken may vary based on local regulations, legal considerations, and the nature of the incident. Consult with a lawyer and local authorities for guidance specific to your situation.

Getting Help after Natural Gas Explosions

While natural gas is a valuable energy source, its potential for danger cannot be overlooked. The team at Kherkher Garcia hope that this guide helps you understand the common causes of natural gas explosions, recognize signs of a gas leak, and implement preventive measures to better ensure the safety of your home and/or business.

If you have questions, or are suffering an injury or loss due to a natural gas explosion, we are here to help. Our team of highly skilled and experienced lawyers can help you make sense of a tragic situation, protect your legal rights, and obtain compensation from any parties who were negligent in causing or contributing to your injuries or losses.

Kherkher Garcia has helped many clients and families who have experienced injury or loss due to a natural gas explosion. We are committed to protecting the rights of those injured, and the families of lives lost, due to negligence. For a free consultation with one of our oil and gas injury lawyers, call us at 713-333-1030, or submit our contact form.


Schedule a free Consultation

Jesus Garcia

Jesus Garcia

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Jesus Garcia. Jesus has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 20 years. He has won $150 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force of nature in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been seriously injured at work or on the road. Abogado Jesus Garcia is bilingual and passionate about being the voice in the courtroom for the spanish speaking community here in Houston, across the state of Texas, and throughout the Nation.

Learn moreRead more articles