Addressing Radon in Natural Gas

Source:  Addressing Radon in Natural Gas    Tag:  is radon radioactive
Recently, a member of Clean Fuels Ohio that develops, owns, and operates compressed natural gas (CNG) stations in Ohio and other states came across the problem of radon detections in their natural gas pipelines. Because many companies require zero radiation on the trucks and trailers that enter their facilities, the detection of radon was negatively impacting business. We reached out to technical advisors to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program to learn more and find a solution to the radon problem.

As a radioactive gas, radon is considered a highly dangerous inert gas and can sometimes find its way into natural gas lines and therefore, compressed natural gas (CNG). While it does pose some dangerous risks, the presence of radon in natural gas will not ruin the product and can be eliminated through longer storage time.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) , Radon-222 is the radioactive decay product of radium-226 which is found at low concentrations in almost all rock and soil. While the bulk of radium is generated through rock and soil, radon often creeps through the cracks and makes its way into natural gas production wells. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Environmental Measurements Laboratory suggests studies have shown that between 30 to 75 percent of the radon can be removed in the processing of natural gas, radon still poses a threat if these short lived daughter products are not stored for further decay.

Radon holds a fairly short half-life of 3.8 days, meaning the amount of radon decreases by half every 3-4 days. Therefore, radon can dissolve in approximately 20-30 days according to an article in the Oil & Gas Journal , which is a relatively short amount of time. The Argonne National Laboratory recommends if trucking facilities detect radon, to store natural gas or CNG for longer periods of time to allow any residual radon to decay below the necessary detection limit.
Photo from US EPA.

Radon is generally not a health hazard to employees or the public as long as it is contained within vessels, equipment and piping. When workers are cleaning or disposing of any equipment or vessels, precautions such as respirators, wet grinding and good hygiene should be used to prevent inhalation or ingestion of potential radioactive dust or other materials.