Nobody wants to endanger their family or property by using unsafe products. The American Energy Coalition believes all consumers should have access to comprehensive safety information about their heating equipment and fuel. On this page, we compare the safety considerations concerning natural gas and Oilheat.
Gas Explosion Creates 100-Foot Fireball
Risk of Explosion
Natural Gas: Natural gas is explosive. If a leak develops inside a house or nearby, a deadly explosion can result. Between 1999 and 2008, there were an average of 44 gas pipeline incidents per year that caused at least one death or hospitalization, according to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.1
Oilheat: Oilheat is not explosive. In fact, it will not even burn unless it is preheated to 140° F.
Conclusion: Oilheat is the best choice for safety because the fuel is non-explosive.
Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Natural Gas: Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that is extremely toxic and can be produced by a malfunctioning fuel-burning appliance such as a boiler or furnace. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission reports that between 1999 and 2005 there were 187 fatalities in the United States directly related to natural gas heating.2 Gas systems can emit carbon monoxide without any visible warning signs.3
Oilheat: If an Oilheat system should malfunction, it will release smoke or soot as a visible warning. These serve as early indicators that something is wrong long before dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can be reached.
Conclusion: Oilheat systems are safer because they produce odors and visible warning signs in the event of a malfunction, but gas heat systems can emit dangerous levels of carbon monoxide without visible warning signs.
Storage Tanks vs. Continuous Delivery
Natural Gas: Natural gas is delivered continuously through a pressurized gas line that is directly connected to the home. If a line ruptures and a leak goes undetected, a building can fill with enough gas to cause a destructive explosion. The National Safety Transportation Board recommends the use of "excess flow valves" to protect lives and property, but they are required only for new gas connections, and many gas-heated homes lack this recommended protection.
Oilheat: Oilheat is delivered one load at a time into a durable storage tank. The tank is not pressurized, and the fuel is not explosive.
Conclusion: Natural gas customers are exposed to risk of injury and property damage because the fuel they use is inherently hazardous. Oilheat customers are not exposed, because the fuel they use is inherently safe.
1 U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Stakeholder Information (updated March 9, 2010)
2 Non-Fire Carbon Monoxide Deaths Associated With the Use of Consumer Products: 2005 Annual Estimates, Consumer Product Safety Commission
3 Preventing Carbon Monoxide Problems, July 2006, Colorado State University Extension