Nitrogen tanks on street corners, why?

What’s about 6 feet tall, made of hopefully strong metal and is too wide for me to completely hug?

I guessed for days but didn’t know until I asked and asked friends in the utilities industries. I’m sure some of you have seen the large tanks of Nitrogen lining a few streets around Laredo. It isn’t just Laredo, these older systems also exist in other places. I know because I not only asked my friends, I asked the internet, too.

Take Guadalupe Street in Central Laredo as an example. There are others in Laredo and in many ohter cities, too. You have the following:

I asked because history tells me that tanks are usually pressurized and logic tells me that these are vulnerable to major impact, say… a late night drunk driver or a speeding distracted driver. Right? So I asked a friend who wishes to not be named, “If a car crashes into one of these Nitrogen tanks, will it instantly freeze (images of Mr. Freeze cryonic gun disasters :P). My friend laughed. I guess it doesn’t work that way but there is a danger. The possibilities of it becoming a projectile after impact is still there.

Another friend directed me to NEC’s and OSHA’s (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) guidelines for safety regulations when it comes to tanks. Well that doesn’t help me much – I am not in the industry and the regulations seem endless. I found the following guidelines about Nitrogen on the OSHA website:


If liquid nitrogen contacts the skin, workers should flush the affected areas immediately with plenty of tepid water to reduce the freezing of tissue. Do not apply direct heat or rub frozen areas.

Clothing contaminated with liquid nitrogen should be removed immediately.


Compressed nitrogen should be stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area in tightly sealed containers that are labeled in accordance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard [29 CFR 1910.1200]. Containers of nitrogen should be protected from physical damage and heat and should be stored separately from ozone.


In the event of a leak or spill involving nitrogen gas or liquid nitrogen, persons not wearing protective equipment and clothing should be restricted from contaminated areas until cleanup has been completed. The following steps should be undertaken following a spill or leak:

Stop the leak if it is possible to do so without risk.
Notify safety personnel of major spills or leaks.
Evacuate all personnel until ventilation can restore oxygen concentrations to safe levels.
Emergency personnel need self-contained breathing equipment.
Allow the spilled nitrogen to evaporate.

Nitrogen doesn’t seem to be a huge danger. It is not combustible but it is in a pressurized container. They sure are an eyesore, though. Are you wondering which company put them there yet?

The Nitrogen tanks belong to AT&T. Why?

Most of the searches brought up other curious people asking the same questions I had, most were from New York (here is a thread from someone asking in Plano, Texas). The answers concurred with what my friends told me about keeping the lines dry and pressurized. One article Naturally, the only dependable video response came from the New York NBC affiliate:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

So there you go. Maybe you had noticed the eyesores before or maybe not, but you will now :).


About Que Fregados

Que Fregados is a quirky look at little things that strike us funny in Laredo and the unique Latino culture. Suggestions and comments are welcome. You can also email to
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11 Responses to Nitrogen tanks on street corners, why?

  1. maybe these are the folks who couldn’t make their cryogenic payments (aka MJ, among others), on the other hand it could just be what drunk drivers need to quit doing that crap. *wink* either case it would be an interesting cold ride to the moon upon impact. ;p

  2. Poncho1950 says:

    The nitrogen is liquid because it is the easiest way to store a large amount of it. It is discharged into underground communication lines to keep them pressurized, so that any moisture and other contaminants are pushed out, thus greatly extending the life of the line. Why nitrogen? It is mostly inert, but free nitrogen and ozone are an unhealthy combination. As for the danger, the tanks are designed with a lot of insulation and very strong tanks, but I imagine they are designed to blow a certain way (up) if a car impacts them. It does present a certain danger — how great, I am not sure — but consider that if the lines were not underground we would need more overhead lines and more poles, and these also pose a hazard to vehicles that careen out of control, for whatever reason.

  3. lisasjm says:

    I’m glad you posted this. I have often wondered this. There used to be one right by the Wells Fargo on San Dario. I’d see it all the time and it made me nervous.

  4. Poncho1950 says:

    Burying wires is expensive, especially when it’s done after streets, sidewalks, buildings and utility infrastructure are in place; it’s a lot easier and cheaper to do the digging when an area is first developed. Imagine having to dodge gas, water and sewer lines, plus any natural and manmade obstacles.

  5. Anonymous says:

    When the Big Ship comes to take “The Chosen Ones” to the New World… The GAS will be released to cleanse the population of unpure.

  6. Nitrogen is nothing more than Oxygen without Moisture, used to dry electrical wires.Also usedin Aircraft tires to keep moisture from freezing at high altitudes.

  7. hmmm…interesting! My first thought was that they looked like the non-flammable pressurized gas containers that pull up to Chick-fil-A to replenish the carbonation machines! Interesting thread here…. 🙂

  8. Kristopher Carrillo says:

    We have them here in Temple tx , tambien… They freak me out , what are the real purposes for them???

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