"Sour gas": What is it?

On the news last night, it was reported that a oil drilling company has applied to the authorities to drill for “sour gas” in a nearby community. A representative of the Sierra Club was shown on the news, telling how sour gas can kill (apparently, by inhalation) if carelessly handled, and residents were also shown expressing their concern about what they considered to be a threat to their lives being plunked down in their neighbourhood.

I’ve never heard of sour gas. I’ve certainly heard of the natural gas that heats our homes and powers some cars, but I don’t think this is the same thing.

What is sour gas exactly, what is it used for, and why is it as dangerous as it seems to be?

I believe sour gas is natural gas with a high level of sulphur dioxide, or some other sulphur compound, which is extremely poisonous.

I could be completely wrong.

I think that Sunspace is right. Sourgas, either hydrogen sulphide, or sulphur dioxide (I always get them mixed up) creates Sulphuric Acid when combined with water (like the water in your body) so inhalation is very bad.

Sour gas has hydrogen sulfide in it, H2S. Deadly toxic gas.

Sulphur dioxide can combine with water vapor to make a weak acid (acid rain). AFAIK it isn’t present in sour gas in any great amount, it’s more of a product of combustion, volcanos, that sort of thing.

Partially right, sour gas also contains large amount of carbon dioxide. Oh, and it’s mainly H2S, not SO2. It lowers the amount of heat it produces per unit of gas - think of them as unwanted dilutants.

Standard industry practice is to use an amine stream to seperate the hydrocarbons from the H2S and CO2. I don’t know what happens to the waste gases - I think they may use a water screen and neutralise it with a base, but I’m not too sure on this.

Spoons, I see you are in Canada. Sour gas is quite a problem there, here is a Link to a site with more info.

What is hydrogen sulfide?
Hydrogen sulfide occurs naturally in crude petroleum, natural gas, volcanic gases, and hot springs. It can also result from bacterial breakdown of organic matter. It is also produced by human and animal wastes.

Hydrogen sulfide can also result from industrial activities, such as food processing, coke ovens, kraft paper mills, tanneries, and petroleum refineries.

Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable gas under normal conditions. It is commonly known as hydrosulfuric acid, stink damp, and sewer gas. It smells like rotten eggs. People can smell it at low levels.

This site explains its effects.

Thanks, everybody, for the information and the links. I understand the issues that were presented on the news, as well as the residents’ concerns, a lot better now.

I worked in petrochemicals for many years.
The waste gas was vented to atmosphere.
In later years this gas was burned in a flare.