What is sour gas?

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Sour gas is a term used to refer to gas that contains hydrogen sulfide in concentrations greater than four parts per million. The term “sour gas” is generally used with reference to natural gas, although it can be used to discuss other gases as well. Gas with impurities such as hydrogen sulfide needs to be treated before it can be used safely. The gas refining process includes a step known as “sweetening” to remove hydrogen sulfide and other materials.

When natural gas is initially accessed in the field, it often contains a variety of impurities, which may depend on where the natural gas drilling sites are located. These impurities must be removed in a refinery to ensure the gas has stable and predictable performance when used. In the case of sour gas, hydrogen sulfide gives the gas a distinctly strong odor that makes it easy to identify, and the sweetening process removes much of the odor.

As sour gas is drilled and transported to a refinery for processing, care must be taken as hydrogen sulfide can be corrosive. Specialized tubes and equipment are needed to avoid adverse reactions during transport that can pose a safety risk. Once the sour gas arrives at the refinery, it can undergo a series of processes to sweeten it. Normally, hydrogen sulfide is not the only impurity in the gas, with sour gas often also containing carbon dioxide.

A closely related term is “sour gas”. Sour gas is natural gas that has a high concentration of acid gases. It must also be processed before it can be used safely. However, sour gas and sour gas are not the same thing. That said, there is usually a great deal of overlap between sour and sour gases, as impurities in natural gas supplies do not perfectly confine themselves to different areas.

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Drillers and refinery facilities can perform tests to learn about the composition of their raw natural gas and determine the most suitable treatment methods for the gas. During the refining process, the natural gas content is standardized so that it can be used in any system designed to use natural gas for heating or power. These systems are generally not designed to handle trace impurities, which makes it critical to provide a consistent and reliable product to prevent damage to natural gas systems or pose a safety risk to users of such systems.

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