Cooling temperatures will soon have people reaching for the thermostat — meaning the use of natural gas is about to go up in many households.
That has prompted an advisory from Ameren Illinois about safety precautions needed around such gas use.
Ameren Illinois is primarily known as a provider of electricity, but there is a vast, hidden energy delivery infrastructure that many take for granted. Every day, Ameren Illinois says it delivers safe, reliable natural gas to approximately 816,000 customers throughout Central and Southern Illinois.
The Ameren Illinois natural gas delivery system is a technological wonder. More than 1,200 miles of large transmission pipes feed a distribution pipeline network that spans nearly 17,000 miles. Along with 12 underground storage fields, these systems work together to bring natural gas to the home, providing heat and powering appliances and helping customers to be comfortable.
Keeping the natural gas system – and the customers it serves – safe, is a responsibility the company takes seriously. Ameren
• Perform routine patrols and inspections of its natural gas pipelines, right-of-ways and facilities across its service territory.
• Conduct regular maintenance and monitor our equipment 24 hours a day.
• If an incident or leak is detected or reported, we respond within the hour. Our highly trained and specialized employees must pass rigorous testing and follow strict standards, codes and regulations.
A key element in pipeline safety is a program that offers anyone, who may dig, a free service to mark the location of all underground utilities. This helps prevent the unexpected and potentially dangerous striking of a gas pipe below ground. Illinois law requires anyone digging, regardless of the depth of the project, to call the locating service for their area.
In Illinois, the program is called JULIE (Joint Utility Locating Information for Excavators). The notice to dig must be made at least 48 hours (two working days) before excavation starts, and the project must begin within 14 calendar days from the call to JULIE – (800) 892-0123.
Customers should take immediate action if they smell natural gas
Natural gas in its pure form is odorless and colorless. Ameren Illinois adds an odorant to create the distinctive rotten egg smell that makes it easier to identify and detect gas while better protecting public safety.
“A customer should never smell natural gas in or around their home or business. If they do, they need to leave the premises immediately and call Ameren Illinois,” said Richard J. Mark, president of Ameren Illinois. “Our crews will respond immediately no matter what time of day, seven days a week, and there is absolutely no charge to the customer for a call out if there is a legitimate concern about a gas leak.”
“Natural gas is a safe and reliable source of energy, but it can be dangerous if people are not vigilant in reporting a suspected leak,” said Eric Kozak, senior director, Gas Operations, Ameren Illinois. “We strongly urge our customers to play it safe and alert us if they even suspect a problem.”
Gas leak response is a high priority for Ameren Illinois. Gas leak calls are responded to in an average of about 22 minutes, and within 60 minutes in nearly all situations.
Sean Maloy, past president of the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association, said fire departments are oftentimes the first to arrive on the scene of a natural gas leak.
“Many times I have heard neighbors saying, “I thought I smelled gas,’ or even, ‘we smelled gas for a week,’ after we were called to the scene,” Maloy said. “If you smell gas in your home or business, leave the building immediately; get to a safe place and call Ameren Illinois.”
Although Ameren Illinois has always stressed safety and communication concerning gas leaks, pipeline safety laws enacted in 2002 caused the company to take gas safety to another level, says Gina Meehan-Taylor, supervisor, Public Awareness Compliance and Gas Training.
“Lawmakers wanted to ensure that emergency responders knew where pipelines are located, what natural gas smells like and how to respond in the event of an emergency,” she says. “We try to conduct as many face-to-face presentations with fire departments as we can every year.”
The Public Awareness Compliance and Gas Training team conducts approximately 100 presentations annually. Meehan-Taylor says the explosive range for natural gas is 4.5 percent to 15 percent.
“If you have 20 percent natural gas in your house, nothing is going to happen because there’s too much,” she says. “But if a first responder opens a window, it’s going to come down to that explosive range. We always want first responders to call us before venting a business or home because even static electricity can ignite natural gas if it’s within the explosive range.”
Customers are reminded of these important tips:
• Smell gas? Leave fast. That distinctive “rotten egg” odor makes it easy to sniff out a gas leak. In addition, a hissing or roaring sound or an unusual area of dead vegetation, blowing dirt, or bubbling water can all indicate a gas leak.
• If you suspect a gas leak, leave the premises immediately, taking pets, too. On your way out of the building, do not use light switches, cell phones or any electrical device that could generate a spark.
• Once you are safe, call Ameren Illinois at 1 (800)-755-5000 to report the suspected leak. The company responds to gas leak calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week – service is free of charge.
• When a person calls Ameren Illinois Customer Service to report a gas leak, their call is escalated and a crew is immediately dispatched to the area. Upon arrival at the premise, crews perform a visual inspection for any outward signs of a leak, as well as inspect the piping, appliances and meter set. If a leak is confirmed, crews work to isolate the problem and make immediate repairs. In some instances, service must be shut off until a qualified HVAC contractor can make repairs.
Keep gas appliances operating safely:
• Have a qualified heating contractor inspect your furnace annually. A properly tuned furnace saves energy and helps avoid costly repairs.
• Check the flue to make sure it is clean and open. Any fuel that does not burn completely can create harmful levels of carbon monoxide. Carbon Monoxide is a gas with no color, odor or taste. It can collect in your home if a fuel-burning appliance isn’t working properly or venting as it should.
• Keep forced-air furnace filters clean. Clean or replace them according to the manufacturer’s recommendation.
• Avoid using or storing the following products near the furnace: paint stripper, fabric or water softener, bleach, adhesives, or salt for melting ice. The chlorine or fluorine in these items can lead to furnace corrosion.
• Keep your heat registers and cold-air returns clean so the air can flow properly. Also, arrange your furniture and drapes so they don’t block the air flow.
— From the Illinois Business Journal via Ameren Illinois