FAIRFIELD — The arrival of natural gas is expected to dramatically reduce the annual cost of heat for thousands of people in central Maine who rely on oil and provide an economic boost to communities as construction crews continue to work on installing pipelines.

But just as with propane gas, natural gas comes with the risk of leaks that can potentially lead to emergencies, said Keith Lincoln, director of gas operations for Summit Natural Gas, one of two companies laying pipeline in central Maine.

Lincoln spoke to a group of emergency response personnel at Kennebec Valley Community College tonight, discussing safety procedures for natural gas leaks.

“Safety is job number one for us, especially in Maine where this is all new. We want people to feel comfortable and safe,” said Lincoln.

The Colorado-based company is in the midst of installing 1,500 miles of pipe to being natural gas from Pittston to Madison, roughly near the path of the Kennebec River. Competing firm Maine Natural Gas is also working on installing a pipeline.

Kelly Roderick, who works at Atlantic Partners Emergency Medical Services based in Winslow, said after the talk that she hopes local fire departments and emergency response teams will work with the gas companies to make sure they have adequate training and equipment to respond to gas problems.

“Seeing how to respond in action is what we need,” Roderick said. “This was a good introduction but the hands-on training is what will make a difference.”

Lincoln said Summit is working on developing training partnerships with fire departments and emergency responders as well as a public safety campaign to answer residents’ questions.

Lincoln told the group it is important that emergency responders take gas leak reports seriously. Responders should also get information from the person reporting the problem, particularly where the person lives, and to assess danger to the public, taking surrounding buildings and their occupants in mind, and evacuate the building if necessary.

All homes and businesses should be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors. Lincoln said signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include nausea, sluggishness and flu-like symptoms.

There is also a danger of static electricity in the pipes, which can be caused by velocity of gas flow and make sparks that ignite the pipe. This can happen if someone pulls on above-ground pipes, he said.

Natural gas, the most common heating fuel in the United States, is between 70 and 95 percent methane, said Lincoln. It also contains ethane, propane, butane, carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

Primary hazards are flammability and combustion in confined spaces. It is non-toxic, naturally odorless and colorless but is an asphyxiate, which means it can make people pass out, he said.

If the gas doesn’t completely combust when it is burned, there is also a risk of carbon monoxide being created, which is toxic.

As gas travels through the pipeline, it stops at a gate or metering station, where it is run through a filter and checked for dust particles. It continues through distribution pipes that run to cities and towns. Service lines connect to the main line on the streets to bring gas to homes and businesses.

Gas is normally odorless and there are a few indicators of a gas leak, which along with someone digging into the pipeline, is the most common safety problem. An unpleasant odor, similar to rotten eggs, is added to help make a leak obvious, he said.

Additional safety concerns are fires or explosions near a gas source or a natural disaster that could cause pipeline leaks, he said.

Lincoln said construction of the pipeline is progressing and the company expects to start bringing natural gas to the first residential homes in the beginning of November.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
[email protected]