We’ve all seen incredible explosions occur in video games, television series, and movies when the hero shoots a propane tank, causing a burning inferno. Although stunning and shocking to see, how accurate are these depictions?
Propane tanks are highly unlikely to explode from being shot with a gun. The risk of someone dying from a propane explosion is about one in 37 million. Leaks or BLEVEs cause most propane-based accidents. Be sure to practice caution and adhere to safety protocols when handling propane tanks.
Although propane tanks are unlikely to explode, it’s crucial to practice proper safety protocols. Leaks and BLEVEs can cause propane-based accidents and injuries. Let’s look at these potential issues and how to prevent them so you can stay safe.
How Likely Are Propane Tanks to Explode?
One 1981 study from the Department of Energy found the risk of someone dying from a propane explosion to be about one in 37 million. That’s around the same odds of dying in an airplane crash. Although propane tanks can explode, the risk is very minimal.
What Causes Tank Explosions?
Propane-based explosions typically fall into two camps: leaks and BLEVEs. However, these accidents have little to do with the tank itself.
Propane explosions are usually caused by leaks, which occur when a tank is left open, and the gas dispensed gets ignited. Leaks are generally what happens when gas grills blow up.
If the explosion is caused by the tank itself, that’s known as a BLEVE, which stands for boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion. BLEVEs occur when the pressure inside the propane tank exceeds the amount it can safely vent. The rising pressure can cause the tank to rupture and burst.
The relief valve found on all propane tanks is your first line of defense against a BLEVE. If the pressure inside a propane tank rises above the safety threshold, the relief valve automatically opens, venting gas to bring down the pressure.
You can reduce the risk of propane leaks, meanwhile, through careful monitoring. Be sure to check that your propane tank is closed when it’s not in use. Regularly check the hoses and connections for any leaks or damage, and monitor gas grills while in use.
Would a Propane Tank Explode if Shot?
If you’ve seen many action movies, series, or video games, you may believe shooting a propane tank will cause a massive, deadly explosion. However, this is almost never the case. Shooting a propane tank is highly unlikely to cause an explosion.
Fire needs oxygen to burn. Propane tanks typically don’t contain enough oxygen to trigger a fire and subsequent explosion. The speeding bullet isn’t hot enough to ignite the tank either. If a propane tank was to catch fire, it would most likely be a nearly empty tank.
The Mythbusters Propane Tank Shooting
On episode 95 of MythBusters, the hit TV series that tests common rumors, Adam Savage and the team tried to make a propane tank explode with a 9 mm handgun. The goal was to replicate a stunt seen in the James Bond movie Casino Royale.
Unfortunately, the 9 mm bullets were entirely ineffective and couldn’t even pierce the tank. The team then tried armor-piercing rounds, resulting in the tank leaking but no explosion. Afterwards, they shot a propane tank multiple times with armor-piercing tracer rounds, still to no avail.
Finally, the MythBusters team used a gatling gun with incendiary rounds to make the propane tank explode. So, as you can see, propane tank explosions are highly unlikely.