It’s the foul smell that can save a life. The smell of rotten eggs is added to odourless natural gas to make it easier to detect when there is a leak.
FortisBC laboratory technologist Chris Wilcock’s job is to make sure the amount of mercaptan — the chemical added to natural gas to give it its pungent odour — is just right.
He seems to be the right man for the job, saying he likes the smell that is designed to make people run from their homes and call for help.
“If I ever got a little whiff, I thought, ‘I kind of like the smell,'” he said.
“I guess I sort of found my calling.”
At a FortisBC lab, bags of foul-smelling gas are brought in from across the province, which Wilcock checks to see if samples contain acceptable levels of mercaptan.
“We have to consistently take samples to make sure that we don’t have any failure out there,” he said. “If we do find a failure, we’re immediately fixing that problem. It’s about being diligent, taking samples knowing that if our samples do come in low we can make an adjustment and meet our standard.”
Over the years, Wilcock has developed a nose for mercaptan.
“Alberta gas smells a little different than B.C. gas,” he said. “I can smell if it’s landfill gas or not. I can sort of differentiate.”
What sort of stink actually bothers a man who doesn’t mind the stench of rotten eggs?
“Onion. Fried onions. Yup, that offends me.”
– With files from John Hua