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Odor from gas facility irritates North Hudson residents

The natural gas substation at the corner of Sommers St. N and Galahad Road N. in North Hudson upset nearby residents with a foul smell during the sub-zero cold snap earlier this month. Three different utilities are involved in the distribution of natural gas at the facility. Photo by Jon Echternacht

There's something rotten in the Village of North Hudson and it has become an irritation and inconvenience to citizens.

The natural gas substation located on the northeast corner of the T intersection made by Galahad Road N. and Sommers St. N apparently gives off noxious fumes under certain conditions that suggests a gas leak and has caused nearby residents to evacuate their homes.

Hilda Miller, who has lived on the corner for 20 years, said the explanation she received from gas company officials was that weather is the culprit.

"When the temperature gets below zero or when it gets extremely hot the gas builds up and the joints leak," she said.

Miller said that when it gets below zero, she can count on being rousted out by the police and fire department at 5 or 6 a.m., and forced to leave the house until the area is pronounced safe.

"Something should be done," Miller said. "This is very stressful."

Miller said she was unaware of the situation when she moved into her house.

"At one time, there was an ear-piercing alarm when the gas leaked," she said but it was so annoying to the residents it has since been removed.

Bev Suckow, who lives on Sommers St. N, has occupied her home for 10 years. She said the gas odor hasn't been as bad at her house but suspects a north wind exacerbates the situation for the residents who live south of the substation.

Nevertheless she hasn't been immune to evacuation. "The worst was last January (2009) when we were evacuated for three hours at 9 p.m.," she said.

Three utilities are involved with North Hudson town border terminal (TBS) said Brian Elwood, an official with Xcel Energy. Northern Natural Gas owns the pipeline that brings the gas to the station and Xcel and Midwest Natural Gas distribute it from that point.

"We want everybody to take a gas smell seriously and report it," he said.

However, some of the smell is part of a natural venting process that occurs when an additive called mercaptan is injected into the system.

"Natural gas has no odor, so mercaptan is added," Elwood said. "That's what gives it the rotten egg odor."

It is a sulfur compound to odorize the natural gas as a safety measure so that leaks can be detected by consumers.

Because there is logically more natural gas used in the winter, there it is likely the rotten egg smell would be more prevalent as the additive is added because a greater volume is being called for.

Dan Plourde of Xcel said the company has a new charcoal filtering system in the works. "The equipment is here and, depending on the weather, we should have installed in a week," he said Monday.

Elwood said a similar charcoal filtering process has been successful with the same kind of problem in Eau Claire.

The system will only be installed on Xcel's equipment, however, so if there is a venting issue with equipment of the other utilities at the station, the odor problem may not be over.

Elwood said the last two times Xcel responded to a call in the neighborhood the problem was the two other utilities.

Midwest Natural Gas spokesman, Doug Dickinson, said his company currently uses a charcoal filtering system. "The charcoal gets saturated and has to be replaced," he said.

Severe cold weather also creates a problem. "When the temperature gets down around that zero mark o-rings can shrink. We go in and tighten things up," he said.

Dickinson said the addition of mercaptan is a necessary safety measure," unfortunately it's a stinky product," he said.

Mike Loeffler of Northern Natural Gas of Omaha, Neb., said his company adds odorant to the pipeline eight to 10 miles away from the North Hudson TBS in Stillwater.

"We always want to know when people smell gas," Loeffler said, "But it is not entirely unknown that the odorant can be smelled without a gas leak."

He said the stations were built in rural areas years ago but increased population and home building has moved the community into the TBS area in some cases.