When handled properly, natural gas is a clean and safe form of energy. Appliances that are installed correctly and maintained according to the manufacturer's guidelines will provide many years of worry-free service.

Several characteristics of natural gas make this form of energy very safe. First, unlike other hydrocarbon fuels, natural gas is lighter than air. This allows natural gas to dissipate into the air should a leak occur. Propane and other hydrocarbon fuels are heavier than air and will "settle" in lower areas if a leak occurs.

Natural gas also has a much higher ignition temperature than other hydrocarbon fuels. Natural gas ignites at 1,200F compared to ignition temperatures as low as 700F for other fuels.

In its native form, natural gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless.  A very detectable odor is injected into natural gas before it enters local pipeline systems. This odorant has a smell resembling the smell of rotten eggs. The level of odorant is maintained so the smell is detectable well before natural gas reaches the flammability range described above.

Safety Tips

If the odor of natural gas is detected

  • Do not light matches.
  • Do not turn on or off or operate any equipment.
  • Advise all occupants to leave the house or building immediately.
  • Do not re-enter the home or business until the gas company says it is safe to do so.
  • Never store flammable materials near a natural gas appliance.

  • Always follow manufacturer's instructions when operating or doing work on gas appliances.

  • Keep burners on all natural gas appliances clean.

  • Make sure flames burn blue. A yellow flame indicates inefficient burning and can be hazardous.

  • Have the furnace or central heating unit checked at least once a year, before the heating season, to ensure it is operating  

  • Clean or replace heating system filters at least once a month. A good reminder is to replace the filter when paying the utility bill.

  • Make sure the temperature setting on the water heater is no higher than 140 degrees.

Major leak or line rupture

If there's a major leak, such as one caused by excavators or a vehicle damaging a gas line:

  • Notify the fire department by calling 911.
  • Warn others to stay away from the area of the apparent leak.
Faint odor

  • A faint natural gas odor coming from an appliance could mean its pilot light has gone out or a burner valve has been left slightly open. It's easy to correct these problems. But if the odor is strong and hard to trace, be sure to call the fire department at 911.

  • Older furnaces and appliances might have manual pilot lights that can be lit again, but newer models have electronic ignitions that are powered by electrical sources.

If the pilot light is out

  • Read the manufacturer's instructions so you know what type of ignition is on the furnace or appliance.
  • Check the instructions and follow them exactly.
  • Don't try any measures not mentioned in the owner's manual.

  • If you aren't sure what to do, do not try any remedies on your own.

  • Call a qualified service technician or your gas company.

Tips from PG&E

Underground Gas and Electric Services:

Dig Safely

If you are planning to dig, grade, rip, till, or disc for any reason, you need to know what is underground. Striking a buried gas pipe or electric line with a shovel, back hoe or other equipment can be hazardous to people and property. Damaged gas pipes can leak natural gas, creating an explosion hazard. Hitting an electric line can cause power outages and can shock or even kill equipment operators.

To locate underground lines

Call Underground Service Alert (USA) at least two working days before you start to dig. Their toll-free number is 1-800-227-2600.  If you find a damaged or exposed gas or electric line Call Pacific Gas and Electric Company at 1-800-743-5000.  In an emergency, call 911. If you accidentally damage an underground line:

  • Leave equipment without turning off engines or generators
  • Leave the area quickly and warn others
  • Do not operate any gas pipeline valves
  • Call 1-800-743-5000 or 911

Natural Gas Safety