Ensuring that natural gas is easily detectable is not just for the sake of customer safety but also concerns economics. For example, the loss of over 607,000 tons of gas by the Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) storage facility near Los Angeles is estimated to have cost the company $665 million in lost gas, according to the San Diego Tribune.
In its raw state, natural gas is comprised of a mixture of inflammable gaseous hydrocarbons, chiefly methane as well as propane, butane and other substances.
Natural gas is lighter than air, non-toxic and is only explosive when mixed in the air at a concentration of between 5-15%. When a leak occurs, whether in an enclosed space, or from a pipeline, tanker, canister or storage facility, the consequences can be serious.
Because natural and shale gas is colorless and odorless, the addition of an artificial odor as a form of alert to a gas escape seemed an obvious solution. Odorization, which was first proposed by German scientist R. Von Quaglio in the 1880s, did not become common until after World War I when it was adopted by many German towns.
However, the practice of adding an artificial odor to gas was slow to spread. It was not until after the 1937 explosion at a Texas school, which killed over 300 students and teachers (when a spark from a sanding machine ignited an undetected gas leak), that gas odorization was widely adopted throughout North America.
In Europe, large-scale gas odorization did not take place until after the discoveries of significant gas finds in the North Sea, which led to natural gas replacing manufactured gas in homes and businesses during the 1970s.
Natural gas is fast becoming the fuel of choice in power generation since it produces fewer greenhouse gases than other fossil fuels and creates no mechanical impurities such as soot. This makes it much more environmentally friendly than coal or oil.
Natural gas meets 25% of global energy demand, boosted by the growth in North American shale gas from 1.2 Bcf/d in 2007 to 15.2 Bcf/d in 2015 and growth in LNG production to a record 258 million tons in 2016. In recent years, trade in LNG and pipeline gas has grown at an annual average of 6% and 3%, respectively, creating a dynamic market for odorizers.