Natural Gas Versus Heating Oil: Which Is Safer?

Since winter is here, most homes in the United States are currently depending upon their heating systems for warmth and comfort. Heating systems can generate heat using a variety of fuel sources. However, in the northeastern portions of the United States, heating oil and natural gas are among the most commonly used fuels.

Natural gas has been made more easily accessible to homes, due to the construction of pipelines for natural gas. As such, some homeowners living in this area of the country are questioning the conversion of their homes from heating oil to natural gas. Safety is an important factor to consider when making this decision. This article will focus on how fuel safety affects homeowners.

The Environment and Natural Gas

Today, natural gas is accessible to homes that were not able to previously consider converting to natural gas. More pipelines for natural gas, along with power plants to utilize this gas, are being built. The end result is a system allowing natural gas to be easily transported to homes so that it can be used as a fuel source. As such, homeowners who could not previously consider natural gas are now able to convert to it.

However, it is important to realize that this convenience has a price associated with it. Natural gas pipelines exact a toll on the environment that they pass through. Environmental issues caused by new natural gas pipelines are irreversible. The damage these pipelines cause to the ecosystem and the environment will be permanent. There are many concerns associated with natural gas and its pipelines, such as the desecration of wildlife, the destruction of land, air pollution and of course global warming caused by emissions. The natural gas pipelines being constructed are creating serious issues for the environment. Additionally, there are many other issues that are being caused by the power plants associated with these new pipelines. These issues are discussed in further detail in the following article published by the David Suzuki Foundation:

Natural gas-fired power plants do emit lower levels of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides than coal-fired plants, but these emissions still contribute to acid rain and ground-level ozone, both of which can damage forests and agricultural crops.

Ground-level ozone (commonly called smog) has also been linked to a range of respiratory illnesses. More recently, ground-level ozone has been linked to the development of childhood asthma, the “most common chronic disease” among children.

Possibly more troubling are the emissions of fine particulates from gas-fired power plants. Though particulate emissions are about ten per cent of those produced by coal power, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 77 per cent of particulates from natural gas plants are dangerously small. These fine particulates have the greatest impact on human health because they by-pass our bodies’ natural respiratory filters and end up deep in the lungs. In fact, many studies have found no safe limit for exposure to these substances.

Using natural gas as a “transition fuel” also poses risks. That’s because pipelines required to transport natural gas from its source to the power plant are expensive. High pipeline costs have to be spread out by building several gas-fired power plants that last a generation. Even the best-case scenario shows that natural gas is not a solution to climate change.

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This article clearly states that the need for heat is not going to be best met by these new pipelines. Not only will the environment pay a big price, but there are also health issues to be considered. It is true that heating oil does use a pipe network to transport crude oil between locations. However, this is generally the safest method of transportation. The pipelines for natural gas, along with the associated power plants, have the potential to ruin the environment, as well as your health. Homeowners are making their opinions clear on this matter.

Your Home And Natural Gas

heating oil vs. natural gas safetyClearly, the network designed to transport natural gas is not really the best solution for your health and the environment. However, what is the effect of natural gas upon your home? It is common to hear stories on the news about natural gas explosions. In fact, the frequency of these occurrences can be a bit alarming.

Gas companies try to minimize the stories of gas explosions, claiming they result only from improperly maintained heating systems that cause natural gas leaks. However, the fact remains that gas leaks are not uncommon and they are a serious issue. The article “Gas Leaks are Everywhere,” found in The Atlantic, is written by a gas leak inspector who claims that gas leaks are very common.

I was required to document all the leaks that I found, but the gas company only immediately fixed those leaks that were within five feet of an enclosure.

But over time, I learned a surprising truth: The bulk of the gas leaks identified are left leaking. Those between five to 15 feet from a house or structure would receive a check-up after six months. Leaks more than 15 feet from a building were noted but required no special attention.

No matter how much work we do to police them, there will be gas leaks for as long as there are gas lines. Even if the number of people surveying and repairing gas lines drastically increased in the next year, old leaks would still persist and new ones would still appear.

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Mercaptan is added by the gas companies to natural gas so that it has a “rotten egg, sulphur-like” odor. Without the addition of mercaptan, natural gas is unable to be detected by human senses, as it is completely odorless. Some people are extremely sensitive to the odor of mercaptan. However, there are also many people who are unable to detect the smell. As such, some people are unable to detect a gas leak in their home.

An undetected gas leak can result in an explosion. However, even before the leak can cause an explosion, it can cause people to suffer from health issues such as dizziness, irregular breathing, fatigue, nausea and headaches. It is unfortunately common to hear about home explosions caused by natural gas leaks. However, even if there is not an explosion, the leak can cause the inhabitants of a home to suffer serious health issues, or even death.

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The Uncontrollable Nature Of Gas Leaks

Perhaps you know that you are doing a good job maintaining your heating system, and are taking every precaution to avoid gas leaks within your home. Even with the precautions you are taking, there are still potentially dangerous situations that you cannot control. A typical gas explosion affects more than just the home with the gas leak. When a home explodes, the explosion generally affects the neighboring homes as well.

Sometimes gas supplies are cut off to areas for a period of time, due to dangerous and hazardous situations. Weather conditions can also affect the pipelines that transport natural gas, sometimes causing them to break. These dangerous situations are discussed further in this article by

Severe storms, flooding, and earthquakes can expose and break pipes, however. When disruptions do occur, it can take weeks or even months to restore. Homeowners should take care in identifying and reporting any problems, as they may pose substantial risk to public health and safety. A break in a natural gas pipeline can lead to fires and/or explosions.

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As discussed in this article, atmospheric conditions can cause gas pipes to break, resulting in leaks. It can often take weeks to correct this situation when it occurs. This situation causes homeowners to go without fuel until the breaks are repaired. As such, this can create a dangerous challenge if a break were to occur in the winter, when temperatures can be dangerously frigid.

Interruptions In Gas Supply

There always exists the possibility that the supply of natural gas may be cut off. A gas explosion or the breakage of a pipeline is one reason why this supply interruption may occur. However, it is also not uncommon for supply to be curtailed due to service demand exceeding the pipeline’s capacity, or an overall natural gas supply shortage.

When these interruptions occur, homeowners must look for alternative fuel sources. On occasion, an interruption in natural gas supply has resulted in the need to go without gas for hours, or sometimes even days. When this happens, homes are left in the unfortunate predicament of going without power for their appliances, and without heat.

Additionally, even before a curtailment in supply occurs, there is the potential for the price of natural gas to go up greatly. Rising costs for natural gas can wreak havoc with a family’s heating budget. This issue is discussed further in this article from Ethanol Producer Magazine.

When facing the potential for curtailment, plants have to consider more than simply losing their natural gas supply—they must also consider the cost of natural gas. Extreme cold snaps can cause the demand for natural gas to increase significantly, resulting in prices of natural gas skyrocketing alongside demand before a curtailment event happens.

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Heating Oil

There are many benefits for the homeowner who chooses to heat his or her home with heating oil. The safety of heating oil is hard to beat. First, heating oil is not explosive, since it is a non-combustible substance.

In a liquid state, heating oil simply does not burn. If you were to throw a lit match into a full tank of heating oil, the match would simply be extinguished. By contrast, natural gas is extremely explosive when it is mixed with air.

Additionally, the danger of undetected leaks involving carbon monoxide does not exist with heating oil, as it does with natural gas. When there is an issue that needs addressing with a heating oil system, there are very clear indications. The scent of oil will be easily detected before a major issue occurs. In the case of an oil leak, the cause is generally a system that has not been properly maintained.

Regardless of the source of fuel being used, any heating system can experience issues if it is not properly maintained. However, in the case of heating systems that utilize natural gas, a heat exchanger can crack, resulting in an undetectable gas leak. There are plentiful supplies of crude oil, which is the substance from which heating oil is produced. Homeowners who use heating oil do not have to worry about an interruption in supply. As such, heating oil is a safer and more reliable source of fuel for homeowners.

Homeowners utilizing fuel oil as their home’s heating source have peace of mind concerning their family’s health and safety. There is no worry concerning undetectable leaks, and the resulting health issues or explosions. Additionally, heating oil is not transported to your home via a potentially questionable network of pipes connected directly to your home. This makes it safer than natural gas, supplied directly via pipes to your home. As such, heating oil is a safe, reliable and dependable source of energy for your home’s appliances and heating system.

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When thinking about what type of fuel is best for your home, safety should be your first consideration. Unfortunately, natural gas leaks are all too common. Hearing about house explosions due to natural gas leaks occur frequently and so one must conclude that it is always a possibility.

Be sure to contact R.F. Ohl for heating oil delivery or any of your home heating needs. We offer reliable and affordable heating oil delivery services and heating system maintenance. Be sure to contact us to find out more on our fuel oil delivery options.

We service Bath PA 18014, Bethlehem PA 18015, Durham PA 18039, Easton PA 18040, Hellertown PA 18055, Kintnersville PA 18930, Martins Creek PA 18063, Nazareth PA 18064, Riegelsville PA 18077, Springtown PA 18081, Stockertown PA 18083, Tatamy PA 18085, and surrounding areas.

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