Natural Gas Fuel Safety

Like any fuel, natural gas is flammable. The fuel storage and delivery systems for natural gas vehicles (NGVs) are governed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). NFPA 52, the Vehicular Gaseous Fuel Systems Code, spells out specific safety requirements for NGVs and their fueling facilities. In addition NFPA 30A applies to facilities that perform maintenance and repair of NGVs; NFPA 88A applies to parking garages.

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)

Natural gas is odorless and colorless in its natural state, but when put into the local distribution network of pipelines, chemicals (odorants) are intentionally added to give it a distinctive, pungent smell, similar to rotten eggs. Owners that notice this kind of lingering odor coming from their vehicle should close the vehicle's manual shut-off valve, if it has one. They should then contact a qualified repair facility and request guidance on how to proceed. Note that a slight odor may be detected when the fueling nozzle is being connected or disconnected during the refueling process. This is normal and should quickly dissipate when fueling has been completed.

Natural gas is lighter than air, so leaking natural gas from vehicles parked outside will generally rise and disperse safely; however, natural gas leaks in an enclosed garage could pose a danger. Owners noticing a rotten egg odor coming from their garage should keep clear of the area and contact their fleet manager and fire-safety officials.

Compressed natural gas (CNG) is also stored at very high pressures, presenting different safety issues than gasoline or diesel fuel tanks. When vehicles and fueling stations are operating well and are properly maintained, the high pressure gas is unlikely to present any danger to the driver of the vehicle. Repair facilities need to take precautions to secure CNG cylinders while they are being serviced, and follow standard safety procedures while working.

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is a cryogenic liquid stored at about -260°F. LNG does not contain an odorant, so an LNG leak is hard to detect. This is why LNG vehicles and garages include electronic methane sensors to detect leaks. The cold natural gas vapors are also heavier than air when they initially leak from a vehicle, so they may cling to the ground, or pool, causing a potential fire hazard, as well as an asphyxiation hazard in enclosed spaces. For these reasons, gas detectors should be installed near the ground and ceiling in areas where LNG or LNG vehicles are stored. LNG or LNG vehicle maintenance facilities should be equipped with both floor- and ceiling-level ventilation to exhaust any potential leaks.

LNG is also different than CNG because LNG tanks may occasionally vent off natural gas if stored unused for a long period of time. LNG tanks are typically designed to hold a full tank of LNG for a week or more without venting, but once the fuel warms sufficiently, the LNG begins to vaporize and the pressure will rise in the tank until the relief valve opens to vent some natural gas. For this reason, LNG vehicles need to be either parked outside or in a facility equipped with proper ventilation to safely remove any vented LNG. LNG should also be used in applications where the vehicles are used regularly.

Another safety concern related to LNG is due to the very cold temperatures at which it is stored. Cryogenic or freeze burns can be caused by coming in contact with LNG liquid, LNG vapor, or cold surfaces of pipes or tanks containing LNG. While LNG refueling hoses are well-insulated and designed to avoid accidental leaks, anyone working with LNG should be aware of the hazards and, if necessary, wear personal protective gear. LNG fueling systems and tanks require minimal maintenance, but should be regularly inspected for leaks and to assure proper functioning of the tank's pressure gauge and LNG level indicator. For more information, see: