FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND MERCAPTAN

Over the weekend I finally watched the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.   It’s by Harry Potter author JK Rowling, and as you might expect is full of, well, Fantastic Beasts and other things magical.

If you haven’t seen it, and without giving away the plot, it seems that 1926 New York City is under siege from some very dark magic.  Matters are made worse when the contents of a suitcase containing Fantastic Beasts is let loose by accident.  Much mayhem and wholesale destruction occurs.

It’s during one of these scenes that residents of a demolished block of row houses and apartments are crazy over the dark force that hit them so hard.   The wizards, fearing exposure, make the residents believe they smelled gas instead before the explosions.

Except….

The rotten egg smell in processed natural gas didn’t come into play until a decade later, after a real life tragedy in a small town in East Texas.

The year was 1937, and the town of New London, Texas was thriving.  The mighty East Texas oil fields had come in a few years earlier, and oil money was changing the landscape of what had once been sleepy rural towns.  New London boasted the first high school stadium in the nation to have full night time lighting for football games, part of a new one million dollar school building erected five years earlier with steel framing and considered to be very modern.

Sitting the middle of an oil field and surrounded by natural gas, the school board finally thought – why pay for it?  The board canceled their contract with United Gas Company to save some money.  Instead, they had plumbers cut into a waste gas line from a local oil company.  Waste gas was normally flared off, and it had become a common practice for people to tap into these lines.  It’s worth noting that the oil companies did not explicitly authorize this use.

The problem with this green or wet gas is that it’s odorless and undetectable.  A leak developed, the school basement filled, and the spark from a power tool ignited it.

Nearly 300 children and teachers died.   The tragedy made headlines in Europe.

 

In a rare show of speed and urgency, the Texas Legislature enacted laws requiring the introduction of mercaptan into natural gas lines.  The practice quickly became one of the few world-wide standards in use today.

The current US regulation is 49CFR, 192.625, “Odorization of Gas.” It mandates that any combustible gas within a distribution line and transmission line (exceptions noted in the rules) must contain odorant at the level of 20% (1/5) of the lower explosive limit so that a person with a “typical” sense of smell can detect it.

When you smell natural gas, don’t look around for an Obscurus, a Dragon, a Kneazie, a Moke, or a Remura.   They won’t be there – but danger will.   Get a safe distance away and call 911.

And ALWAYS call 811 BEFORE you dig to get underground lines located!

Oh, by the way – filming on the next production in the Fantastic Beasts series is set to begin in July, 2017, with Jude Law and Johnny Depp as two of the stars.

Until next week, safe digging!

 

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