Safety Information for Natural Gas Contractors and Professionals | Atmos Energy

Safety Information for Natural Gas Contractors and Professionals

Customer-owned Piping

Plumbers, natural gas contractors, or anyone working on a natural gas system have a responsibility to employ safe practices for the work that they are performing for others. They must educate themselves and their employees on all aspects of natural gas.

Unless you are employed by Atmos Energy directly, you should only perform work on the customer-owned piping, appliance, or natural gas system. In most states, except Kansas, the customer owns the natural gas piping on their property from our gas meter to their home or business. Customer-owned natural gas lines include all the piping that goes:

  • From our natural gas meter to the appliances on the customer’s property.
  • From our natural gas meter to the home or business (when the meter is not right beside the home).
  • From our natural gas meter underground to a building, pool/spa heater, barbecue grill, or other natural gas appliance.

You are strictly prohibited against working on or operating Atmos Energy’s system unless working on Atmos Energy’s behalf.

customer-utility_gas_pipe_graphic

As a natural gas professional, you have certain obligations to the people that you serve based on the work you are performing.

If you hold yourself out as “licensed,” you are obligated to maintain all applicable licensure standards and requirements for the jurisdiction. Certain states do not have licensure boards.  Even if you are not licensed, if you are working on a customer-owned natural gas system, you have standards that you must be familiar with and meet. Helpful information about natural gas, can be found here

Prior to installing, inspecting, or performing any work on a natural gas appliance or customer system, you must read and follow all manufacturers' manuals, instructions, and warnings.  All customer piping should be tested or inspected periodically. If piping is not maintained, it may be subject to the potential hazards of corrosion and leakage. If corrosion or a dangerous condition is discovered, the piping should be repaired as soon as possible. You must also know how to recognize carbon monoxide build-up and what to do about it.

Before working on any customer’s system, it is your responsibility to ensure that you and all of your employees, contractors, or anyone else working on your behalf follows all applicable provisions of any law or regulation related to your work for the customer in the area. This may include, but is not limited to:

  • National Fuel Gas Code, including NFPA 54 and 56,
  • International Fuel Gas Code,
  • International Plumbing code,
  • Uniform Plumbing Code,
  • International Mechanical Code,
  • International Fire Code,
  • International Building Code,
  • Applicable manufacturer’s instructions and warnings for all gas appliances including manuals and on-product labels
  • Applicable state plumbing codes, and
  • Applicable local ordinances and codes.

Do not rely on your sense of smell alone to detect the presence of natural gas. Use all your senses —smell, listen or look—to check for signs of a leak. Appropriate instrumentation for your task should be used and may also alert you to the signs of a natural gas leak.

If you ever detect or suspect a natural gas leak, do not wait! Leave the premises immediately then call 911 and Atmos Energy at 866.322.8667.

Federal and state regulations require utilities to odorize natural gas so that “the gas is readily detectable by a person with a normal sense of smell.” Natural gas has no odor on its own, so regulations require utility companies to add an odor. Atmos Energy and many other utilities mix in an odorant called "mercaptan", which has a very distinct smell that is recognizable. Some people describe it as a “rotten-egg” or “skunk-like” odor.

You can learn more about some of the mercaptans that we use by reading these example Safety Data Sheets (SDS) produced by Chevron Phillips. Other SDSs are available on the internet, free of charge.

Atmos Energy technicians routinely monitor the odorant concentration with instruments throughout our pipeline system.

For most people, the smell of odorant is a highly reliable indicator of a natural gas release. However, there are situations that can cause you not to smell gas when it is present.
• Continued exposure to the odorant can desensitize the sense of smell.
• The smell of natural gas can be masked by other odors in the area.
• You may suffer from temporary loss of smell, olfactory fatigue due to ailments, such as colds, sinus conditions or allergies.
• Using tobacco, alcohol, medications, or narcotics can lessen your ability to smell odorized gas. You might have a diminished ability to detect a natural gas leak. The Center for Disease Control has identified the loss of smell as a potential symptom of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.
• In certain rare situations, the odor intensity can be diminished by physical and/or chemical processes, such as when gas passes through certain soil conditions. This is sometimes referred to as “odor fade.”

You must understand how your work on a customer’s natural gas system, piping, and appliances, could potentially diminish the detectability of odorant. You may need to be familiar with the principles of both adsorption and absorption.

The odorant levels in a natural gas stream may diminish because of the introduction of items that include but are not limited to:
• Rust
• Liquids
• Stagnant or slow-moving natural gas
• Natural sulfurs or
• New pipe

To overcome this issue, a variety of designs, processes, and techniques should be incorporated.

If you are releasing natural gas or purging pipe, you must take all precautions and strictly follow all applicable codes, regulations, laws, and manufacturers' guidance and consider the following:
• Persons not involved in purging operations should maintain a safe distance
• Remove all sources of ignition
• Purge outdoors or to an open space
• Do not rely solely on your sense of smell and
• Utilize a combustible gas indicator or detector

Purging shall be stopped when natural gas is detected. If for any reason you believe that you are in the presence of natural gas, but cannot smell it, leave the area immediately then from a safe distance call 911 and Atmos Energy at 866.322.8667.

In addition, residential methane detectors are available and can provide an additional ability to detect the presence of gas. These alarms must be selected and installed according to the manufacturer's instructions. Learn more at the Gas Technology Institute.

Call 811 at least three business days* before you want to dig. You will reach an 811 call center, which will coordinate with Atmos Energy, your electric company, and other utilities to mark all the utility-owned underground pipes and cables. Learn more about calling 811 and safe digging practices

*may vary by state law

Atmos Energy and other utilities that use horizontal or trenchless boring to install buried lines have discovered some locations where the utility line was installed accidently through a sewer line outside a home or business. When this occurs, we call it a cross bore. If a natural gas line is cut or nicked while unclogging a sewer line, it can create a serious hazard. Damaging a natural gas line can cause a rapid fire or explosion and lead to even more serious damage or injury to those working on the sewer line and people nearby or some distance away. 

If you suspect a cross bore, call our Atmos Energy emergency number immediately at 866.322.8667.  We will inspect the situation at no charge. Learn more about cross bore safety.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that can result from faulty or improperly used or maintained appliances and equipment. Learn more about carbon monoxide safety, including how to prevent carbon monoxide buildup and recognize when someone has been exposed.

Atmos Energy wants to help you, your employees, contractors, and your customers be safe. If a customer’s home or business is affected by flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes, or a similar event, follow these weather safety tips