LISBON - Local first responders spent Friday morning trying to find the source of a mysterious natural gas smell that wafted its way through the Hanoverton and Salem areas.
In the end, officials were unable to determine the source of the smell, which was dissipated within 45 minutes, according Guilford Lake Fire Chief Frank Baker, who believes it may have come from a passing truck transporting ethyl mercaptan, which has a distinct odor and the key additive used to give natural gas a detectable odor.
The first call was received by the Columbiana County Sheriff's Office at 8:45 a.m. of a natural gas smell on U.S. Route 30, about a mile west of the Kensington plant - the $500 million natural gas collection and processing plant in Hanover Township. Baker, who is principal at nearby United Local High School, said before the fire department responded, his staff and students began coming to him saying they also smelled gas.
Residents of Perry Township, which is north of the Kensington-United Local area, began reporting at 9:15 a.m. they smelled the gas. An hour later the gas was detected in Canfield.
County Emergency Management Agency Director Luke Newbold, whose agency stood ready to assist if needed, spoke with an official from the Kensington plant, who told him the smell could not be coming from them because they do not add mercaptan to the natural gas received at the facility. That is done at the gas storage and transfer plant in Harrison County, where the gas from the Kensington facility is shipped by pipeline.
Baker said Columbia Gas and the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. were contacted and sent workers to assist in detecting the gas, as the company that runs the Kensington plant. They came with air-monitoring equipment and drove to the areas where the calls were coming from. They also went through the school with the monitoring equipment.
"My thought is some excavator cut a (commercial) gas line while putting in a gas line," Baker said, but that was ruled out by the monitoring equipment and the fact that neither Columbiana Gas or Tennessee reported a drop in their line pressure. There was no drop in pressure either at the Kensington plant, officials said.
Baker said the odor left the Kensington-United Local area by 9:30 a.m. and the fact it was detected 45 minutes later in Canfield led them to conclude it was likely a truck passing through the area emitting the smell. A newspaper employee who lives near Hanoverton said a strong smell was still present at 5 p.m., however.
"We appreciate the representatives from the plant and Columbia Gas coming out and helping," Baker said. "They were a great help."