Methane: Explosions or fuel

Published 10:31 pm Friday, January 10, 2014

Apparently the cover blew off a sewer manhole on New Year’s when a child was shooting off firecrackers. Luckily an adult was on hand and even more luckily the child wasn’t more badly injured.

This brought to mind a few incidents that occurred while I was in Jackson at The Clarion-Ledger. We received word one evening shortly before deadline that there had been an explosion in West Jackson. Then executive editor Purser Hewitt dispatched me to go the site and told me before I left the newsroom that it was most likely a “sewer gas” explosion.

He was right. He had heard the same call before, to the same location. Some children were playing with fireworks and when one went off too close to the manhole cover, there was an explosion. Methane gas, as we now call it, had exploded. Apparently a small amount was escaping from under the cover and acted as a fuse to the pocket below.

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There have been proposals over the years to use the gas as a fuel to generate electricity, most recently here in Pearl River County. Supervisor Sandy Kane Smith proposed piping off the methane that forms in the landfill at Millard and using it to power the Pearl River County jail complex.

When I was farm editor at The Clarion-Ledger there were proposals made from time to time to use methane generated from composting chicken manure or hog waste or cow manure to power the houses in which the chickens and hogs were raised and the milking barns on dairy farms. A few of the more enterprising farmers used the suggestions, often refined at Mississippi State University or some other land grant college.

I wonder if the methane gas produced in our sewers could be used to power the sewage treatment plant? That might be something to think about and explore.