Friday, November 9, 2007

“Sour” Natural Gas

Natural gas exploration does not always yield the exact proper mixture of gas that is most readily appropriate for processing and use. Sometimes the gas mixture that presents itself contains a significant amount of hydrogen sulfide, and is considered “sour” if there are more than 5.7 milligrams of hydrogen sulfide per cubic meter of natural gas, or approximately 4 parts per million by volume. Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, toxic, and flammable gaseous compound that smells sour and is responsible for the foul smells inherent to rotten eggs and flatulence. It is not the smell that prevents this sour gas from use, but however makes it dangerous in its handling. Many metals that are used in pipeline construction are vulnerable to sulfide stress cracking caused by this higher presence of hydrogen sulfide. Sour gas also burns with less fervor and also produces sulfur dioxide when burning, definitely not advantageous to the burgeoning chef or delightful smells wafting from his or her kitchen.

Much worse, of course than sour smells in the kitchen is the threat of an accidental release of sour natural gas from a well or pipeline network. The vapor cloud that would be created would be toxic to any persons near the release as well as extremely flammable. Persons inhaling this air infected with high amounts of hydrogen sulfide could be fatally injured if the concentration or their exposure time exceeds the threshold of lethality. Natural gas companies such as Triple Diamond Energy Corp strive to implement the newest advances in pipeline technology in order to keep the populace safe as well as sufficiently supplying its need for natural gas. An excellent way companies are preventing accidental exposure to sour gas is through treatment at processing plants before gas is transported through the pipeline network.

Sour gas must be treated before its public use. The impurities must be lessened to acceptable levels by an amine gas treating process. This process utilizes an absorber unit that absorbs the excess sulfides and carbon dioxides and a regenerator unit that is used to produce a regenerated amine that can be recycled and reused in the absorber unit. The removed hydrogen sulfide is then most often converted to sulfur in another process, the Claus process, so that the sulfur can be utilized in such products as fungicide and gunpowder. These processes are commonly called “sweetening” processes because they remove the foul smelling components from the gas.

About the Author: Bob Jent is the president of Triple Diamond Energy Corp. Triple Diamond Energy specializes in acquiring the highest quality prime oil and gas properties. For more information, visit

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