Public Lab Research note

Hydrogen Sulfide Monitoring In Gas Patch Background

by sara | September 11, 2011 17:37 11 Sep 17:37 | #458 | #458

Bucket brigade report on hydrogen sulfide in the gas patch:

Gas patch concentrations of 10 ppm to over 100 ppm.

Sensors we are looking into:

Description of the issue:

From Frank with Western Colorado Congress--a contact of Sara's in Gas Patch:

"WCC, in concert with San Juan Citizens Alliance, NRDC and the Global Community Monitor, coordinated a citizen air sampling program which found the H2S. Subsequently, local media began reporting on the findings; COGCC denied H2S presence in western Colorado; a former industry worker came forward via WCC with his first-hand account of H2S in the Piceance Basin; and now both Noble Energy and COGCC admit there is H2S. WCC met recently with Udall's Grand Junction staffers to describe the citizen-led air sampling effort which found H2S, and we called for the need to stay vigilant about air pollution associated with oil/gas development."

Udall looking into hydrogen sulfide poisoning report Gas worker's widow wants investigation John Colson Post Independent staff Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado Wednesday, August 31, 2011 U.S. Senator Mark Udall, D-Colo., is looking into charges that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has taken more than two years to conduct an investigation into claims by a Silt Mesa resident that he was exposed to potentially fatal toxic fumes while working on a gas drilling rig.

Silt Mesa resident Carl McWilliams has issued a number of highly critical diatribes by e-mail in recent months, in which he accused OSHA of taking too long with his case.

"It has been over 28 months since I filed my whistleblower complaint," McWilliams wrote in an e-mail to Udall as well as two officials with OSHA, "and I have not received any communications from OSHA for one full year."

McWilliams forwarded an e-mail sent to him in April 2009 by Rita Lucero from the complaint department at OSHA in Denver, acknowledging receipt of his initial inquiry. Lucero did not return calls from the Post Independent on Tuesday.

McWilliams also has alleged that there is an ongoing cover-up to conceal his exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas while working on a well pad, and to bury his complaints about the matter.

"We are looking into it," said Tara Trujillo, communications director for Udall, from her office in Grand Junction. "This is going to take some time."

Trujillo said on Tuesday that Udall's office was awaiting a privacy waiver from McWilliams, without which they cannot approach OSHA about McWilliams' case.

McWilliams, a former employee of a contractor in the gas drilling industry, has reported that he was working on a Noble Energy gas rig in March 2009 when he was sickened by what he believes was hydrogen sulfide gas.

McWilliams said he woke up a day after one incident of exposure with severe double vision and what he called "stroke-like symptoms."

He filed a safety complaint with OSHA in April 2009.

In August of that year, OSHA cited McWilliams' employer, Lonkar Services (USA), operating locally as Lightning Wireline, with several violations and fines related to the exposure of gas field workers to hydrogen sulfide without the proper protective equipment.

Shortly afterward, McWilliams has told the Post Independent and other news organizations, he was fired for being a whistle blower and exposing the company to federal inquiries.

Although the industry and state regulators have long argued that encounters with hydrogen sulfide are rare and nonhazardous in Western Slope gas fields, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission recently confirmed that the gas has been encountered at relatively high levels.

Lonkar, a Canadian firm that lists itself in the well testing business and other activities, referred calls to Lightning Wireline.

Lightning Wireline in Rifle, which is described on business-listing websites as specializing in "removal of condensate gasoline from field (gathering) lines," could not be reached for comment.

A Lightning Wireline spokesman in Platteville, who identified himself only as Mike, said McWilliams' charges were "investigated by the labor board, and they found that we didn't do anything wrong." He then referred a reporter to the Schlumberger corporation in Houston, which he said owns Lonkar. Calls to that office were not returned on Tuesday.

McWilliams has told the Post Independent that in early March 2009, he and a co-worker, Troy Orth, were "swabbing" a Noble gas well when they were exposed to high levels of hydrogen sulfide.

An OSHA report on the citations against Lonkar referred to gas levels of between 60 parts per million and 100 parts per million, which are well above levels considered safe by the Centers for Disease Control.

Swabbing, McWilliams explained, is a process for clearing blockages from a gas well bore in order to get the natural gas flowing freely to the surface. He said the process frequently brings large volumes of gas vapors to the surface.

Orth died three days later, and his death at the time was attributed to a heart attack. McWilliams believes the exposure to hydrogen sulfide had something to do with that heart attack.

Orth's widow, Kim, told the Post Independent on Tuesday that she believes there is a cover-up going on, and agrees that an investigation is warranted.

"As far as there being a cover-up, absolutely, there's no doubt," Orth said in a telephone conversation. "They didn't want me knowing anything."

She said the company never told her anything about hydrogen sulfide, and that high-up executives seemed to be involved at the time.

"They flew their Lear jets down here when he died," she recalled. "I still think it (hydrogen sulfide) might have contributed, but there's no proof."

She said her late husband was cremated shortly after he died.

Post Independent opinion: Industry should keep public, workers aware of presence, dangers of hydrogen sulfide Post Independent Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The formal confirmation by gas industry regulators that toxic hydrogen sulfide gas has been detected at drilling sites in Garfield County is serious news that is also, we're afraid, long overdue.

The toxic and explosive gas has been measured at drilling pads operated by Noble Energy at levels of around 100 parts per million (ppm) on a "handful of occasions," according to David Neslin, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

What's most troubling is that Noble has encountered the toxic gas over the past two years, but the company is apparently just now confirming its presence to state regulators and the media.

Hydrogen sulfide is known to occur in conjunction with gas drilling in other states, but it's been kept under wraps in Colorado until this summer, when former gas well worker Carl McWilliams of Silt forced the issue into the open.

In a nutshell, hydrogen sulfide is a naturally occurring gas that is sometimes found in natural gas wells. It's also produced by oil refineries, tanneries and paper mills, and emitted naturally from hot springs and volcanoes.

At low concentrations of 10 ppm it smells like rotten eggs, but with prolonged or higher level exposure the smell disappears and severe health effects stack up that can lead to death. It is so dangerous at high levels that safety manuals discourage people from trying to rescue a person who has collapsed near a hydrogen sulfide source.

Hydrogen sulfide is nothing to mess around with, and companies are required by federal law to train workers about its hazards and provide respiratory protective gear. Rig workers can also combat the formation of hydrogen sulfide by injecting biocide chemicals down well holes to inhibit the organic processes that form the gas.

Now that we know hydrogen sulfide is a hazard for the local drilling industry, we naturally wonder whether it played a role in other chemical exposure incidents resulting from drilling in the county.

It's high time for industry and state regulators to document hydrogen sulfide occurrences and share that information with the public.

Just as we " and now, Gov. Hickenlooper "have called on drilling companies to post the ingredients in hydraulic fracturing fluids, we now call on industry to tell the community what is happening with hydrogen sulfide at natural gas wells.

It is simply too dangerous a substance for this information to be kept in secret.

We also call on the gas industry to commit to practices that will protect rig workers, service company workers and residents living near rigs from exposure to hydrogen sulfide.

Again, it is too dangerous a substance to risk the health or lives of people working at or living near gas rigs.


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