Penn State acquired its initial natural gas system in the 1970s from Columbia. Today, there is more than 10 miles (56,000 feet) of Penn State-owned natural gas pipeline on campus. More than 120 buildings are currently connected to the system. While a majority of the underground pipeline is steel, new gas feeds are installed with plastic pipe. When and where possible, existing steel lines are upgraded to plastic increasing system safety and reliability.
Natural gas at Penn State is primarily used for heating and cooking. Some of systems include hot water heaters, gas dryers in residence halls, cooker/burner units in research laboratories, laboratory turbines and ceramics kilns. Gas for building heating is predominantly limited to outlying buildings that are unable to be connected to the steam system used by the majority of campus facilities.
There are numerous benefits to being a natural gas system owner. Not only are we able to make adjustments to our systems easily, we are also able to provide more comprehensive responses and do so quickly should issues arise.
Columbia Gas and Penn State
Despite owning our own natural gas system, Penn State maintains a relationship with Columbia Gas. Penn State operates a Master Metering system. There is an overlap between the distribution lines owned by Columbia and those owned by the University. Whereas with many other utilities the supplier’s ownership normally ends where it meets University utilities, Columbia owns and maintains distribution lines all throughout campus.
Columbia-owned gas lines installed on University property are granted right of ways by the University. This limited the potential footprints of future structures, as well as permits Columbia to remove anything that may hinder their work.
Regulations and Governance
Penn State’s natural gas system must comply with federal regulations, including DOT 191 and 192. In addition, Pennsylvania has a state regulating body known as the Public Utilities Commission (PAPUC), which the University works closely with to maintain compliance with specified standards.
1. What gives natural gas its unique smell?
Since natural gas is colorless and odorless, Mercaptan is a harmless, non-toxic chemical that is added to make it easier to detect a gas leak before it becomes a hazardous situation. It is often described as smelling like rotten eggs or cabbage. Mercaptan contains sulfur, which is what gives it the smell.
2. How deep are gas lines buried?
Gas lines are buried approximately four feet deep. Another common practice is to locate the gas lines a minimum of 18” from any other building service lines.
3. What should I do if I smell gas?
If you smell gas, leave the area quickly (if you’re indoors, get outside), warn others to stay away and call 911 from a safe place. Indoors gas odors and outdoor odors should always be reported.
Do not light a match, candle or operate anything that could cause a spark, including cell phones, lights, appliances, flashlights, power tools, etc. Do not open windows and doors in an attempt to ventilate. Do not try to find the leak yourself or operate pipeline valves.
4. I’m planning to dig for a project, do I need to contact anyone in advance?
Every digging job requires a call to 811, the Pennsylvania One Call System, at least three days before digging. It’s the law. Learn more about PA Act 287.