By Cassie McClure and Suzanne Michaels
Published in the Las Cruces Bulletin 7/19/19
It looks very similar to other City of Las Cruces trucks you see on the streets, except for the attachment on the front that might cause you to take another look. Hanging from the front end of the truck, six little rubber cones are swaying on a rack. It’s the Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) Gas “sniffer truck” making its rounds testing for any natural gas leaks from underground pipes.
Adam Valles, LCU Gas leak survey technician, explains that natural gas lines, along with water and sewer lines, run underneath virtually every street in the city. The city is divided into residential quadrants, with each street surveyed once every three years. “It takes us about a year to survey all of one area before we move on to the next,” notes Valles. “Plus, we’re scanning the commercial areas by hand for gas leaks at the same time.”
Commercial areas are scanned once a year by the truck and by walking from the main gas line to the business with a hand-held detector. Detecting natural gas leaks from the ground can be done because natural gas is lighter than air. Any leaks will vent up through the soil and cracks in the concrete or asphalt.
“Early detection is critical for gas,” explained Lucio Garcia, LCU deputy director of Gas. “We use our sniffer trucks to locate any potential problems before there is damage to infrastructure like roads and buildings.”
The sniffer truck is equipped with special flame ionization (FI) equipment used to measure gas that may be escaping into the air. Technicians drive about five miles per hour, positioning the truck as close to directly over the main gas line as possible. A vacuum pump pulls air in through the flexible rubber cones attached to the front of the truck’s fender. The cones ride just above the ground, and air is pulled through them at the rate of two liters per minute. The FI equipment installed on the truck alerts the technician if any gas is detected.
If a leak is reported in the cab of the truck, Valles will stop and get out to take another measurement with his hand-held detectors and then round up other inspectors and crew to immediately determine the source of the leak and begin repairs.
“If you ever smell gas, usually a smell like rotten eggs but even if it’s a smell you can’t identify, please call us right away,” said Valles. Utilities Emergency Dispatch is staffed 24-hours a day at (575) 526-0500.
You can reach Las Cruces Utilities at 528-3500 from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Las Cruces Utilities provides GAS – WATER – WASTEWATER – SOLID WASTE services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.
PHOTO 1: LCU Gas Leak Survey Technician, Adam Valles, has a morning routine to test his truck, lighting a small handheld lighter under the cones of his truck and making sure the gas is detected in the cab.