Have you heard that water pipes can cause an emergency when they freeze and burst? Are you worried the same can happen with your gas pipeline on the coldest day in the year? Not only are you concerned about the gas pipes freezing, but you are anxious a freeze-off can affect your entire gas supply system.
Luckily, even though gas freezing poses a potentially serious problem, the freeze point of natural gas is extremely low. It takes temperatures below -296.7° Fahrenheit for this problem to occur. Here is all you need to know about how, when, and why natural gas freeze can occur.
Can Natural Gas Freeze?
As we mentioned, natural gas is unlikely to freeze, even in very cold weather. This is good news for everyone depending on this kind of energy. Gas is extremely dry, and it mostly consists of methane, which is not easy to turn into liquid. To freeze, methane requires temperatures that are more likely to be found in outer space than on Earth.
Unfortunately, the freeze-off can happen. This is a legitimate concern, and it happens more often than we would like. In February 2022, for example, a freeze-off in Texas left 4.5 million households without power and heat. To make the situation worse, there were over 100 cold-related deaths.
How Does a Natural Gas Well Freeze?
The frigid cold can put natural gas wells at significant risk of freezing, thus halting the production and supply lines. It can be confusing how gas, a substance that requires serious technology to turn into liquid, can freeze at all. That’s why it is important to note that the term wellhead freeze doesn’t refer to the actual wells freezing.
The phenomenon of natural gas well freeze happens when the valves coming out of the well get plugged. This usually occurs when ice-like hydrates form due to the extremely cold weather. Ice-hydrates are tiny crystals that consist of water molecules and methane. These crystals can plug the valves, causing problems in both gas production and distribution.
Although gas mostly consists of methane, which we said is hard to liquify, there are other substances, called natural gas liquids, that are present along with methane. These substances, such as carbon dioxide and water vapor, are byproducts of gas production. Unlike methane, they can easily freeze when the temperatures drop sufficiently.
Why Is Natural Gas Well Freeze Dangerous?
Since well freeze-offs can happen whenever the temperatures fall low enough to freeze water and other liquids, this poses a potential threat to the entire gas supply system. This is especially dangerous during harsh weather conditions (which is when freeze-offs occur) because it can seriously affect people’s lives.
Gas distribution disruptions in Texas, in 2022, can indirectly be associated with the loss of 100 human lives. If there had been more places for people to find a warm shelter, the casualties could have been reduced significantly.
Occurrences such as this one can also have a significant effect on the country’s economy. When natural gas production falls due to a halt in production, the gas prices rise because of higher demand. As a result, this can notably affect your monthly budget.
What Can You Do?
Although you might not be able to influence the weather and the natural gas wells, you will still want to ensure that the parts of the grid you have control over are properly functioning. That is why you’ll want to ensure you protected all your house installations, and that they are up to date.
Bear in mind that gas is not a substance you should be playing with. If possible, skip doing any work on the pipes yourself. Of course, you can go and check if there is any water accumulation around the pipes or any visible signs of damage.
But it is always best to consult an engineer if you have any doubts about the functionality of your gas supply system. You should also be aware of factors (besides extremely low temperatures) that pose a risk of freezing.
What Can Cause a Gas Pipeline System to Freeze?
Gas freezing is a significant problem, and it can happen at any point in gas production — from the gas well to our house pipeline system. A gas pipeline system, the same as the gas well, can freeze under several sets of circumstances. These include, but are not limited to, the presence of any liquid in the pipeline, faulty gas line, and the presence of ice or hydrates.
Previously, we’ve explained the mechanisms of how hydrates form and how they affect a freeze-off in gas wells. We also stated that any liquids created in the process of gas production could influence the freeze-off in the natural gas well. The same applies to pipeline systems.
But when it comes to gas pipes in your home, the situation is more optimistic. The pipes are made of materials such as steel, copper, and bras. These materials are highly resistant, and it is difficult for them to freeze or break even in extremely cold weather.
However, there is always a possibility of having faulty pipes in your home. What does that mean? It means your gas pipes are susceptible to leakage or pressure drops because there is certain damage to the system. Also, the presence of any water around the pipes can cause potential contamination, which can lead to freezing.
Freeze Point of Natural Gas
As mentioned earlier, the freeze point of natural gas is -296.7° Fahrenheit, which is an extremely low temperature. So, how come freeze-offs happen, and why? We tried to explain that it’s not only natural gas you can find in the gas wells and the gas supply system, but there are other elements as well.
What comes from the gas well is a mixture of methane, propane, butane, crude oil, and other chemicals. One of these chemicals, easy to freeze, is water.
So, knowing this, we can conclude that even though it’s not easy to freeze the gas itself, a natural gas well can freeze due to other chemicals in the mix. The freeze-off can happen if any of the elements other than gas meets the temperature low enough to freeze it.
As low as the risk is, natural gas well freeze-offs will always pose a threat to the gas supply systems. However, gas production and distribution companies can implement proper freeze protection systems and procedures to prevent serious damage.
As for you, well, ensure your household gas supply system is up and running smoothly. This will make you feel more confident that the winter in your home will be warm and cozy.