Purpose of this research
The goal of this research is to collaborative develop with a community organization and organizers a method of detecting and mapping Hydrogen Sulfide a neurotoxic gas, associated with natural gas and oil production. Hydrogen Sulfide is a leading cause of work place injuries in the US. It's recognizable by it's hallmark rotten egg smell. Communities living by industrial operations like oil and gas extraction frequently report smelling this gas and experiencing symptoms of exposure such as dizziness, burning in the nose and throat. At high level of exposure residents report "knock downs" from high levels of the gas which render the exposed unconscious. Communities have no affordable means to map this health hazard. While H2S emissions are required to be reported to the Toxic Release Inventory nationally, oil and gas development operations are exempt from reporting requirements.
This project is the first attempt to systematically test Horwell's photographic paper assay to detect industrially rather than volcanically produced Hydrogen Sulfide.
Testing on the ground was lead by Deb Thomas of Clark Resource Council, Powder River Basin Resource Council and Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, in collaboration with Drew University GIS student, Caitlyn Kennedy.
Preparation and development of test strips was done by Dr. Sara Wylie, co-founder of Public Lab and Assistant Professor at Northeastern University, in collaboration with Elisabeth Wilder, a sociology graduate student at Northeastern University. Early work on this project was also done by Brian Clarke, a Health Science undergraduate at Northeastern University.
Maps were prepared and developed by Megan McLaughlin, a landscape architect trained at Rhode Island School of Design.
Our group has been a true collaboration. Work was conducted and reviewed collectively through bi-weekly phone meetings.
The sites in this study (Deaver, Elk Basin, Hamilton Dome, and Legend Rock) are areas in which members of the community live, work, recreate, and travel through. They were chosen based on the concerns of Powder River Basin Resource Council members. The common factor in all of the areas sampled is oil and gas development.
Three rounds of testing were performed at each site. In the first round (Round A) a few test strips were placed in each location to assess feasibility of a longer study in that location. Test strips in the first round were left out for between 1 and 2 weeks. The following rounds of testing (Rounds B and C) attempted to more systematically map the locations.
Overall Research Questions
1) does the photographic paper assay detect Hydrogen Sulfide in areas known to be contaminated with H2S? 2) Is the assay amendable for community organizers and non-scientists to use? 3) does the assay produce repeatable results? 4) What is the best structure for organizing data processing, analysis, visualization and storage for this assay?
Deaver Site: H2S on a Family Ranch
Deaver is located in the Bighorn Basin in north-central Wyoming along the Montana/Wyoming border. Sampling points were located on private property northwest of Deaver, in Park County. Oil and gas has been developed in this area since the 1950s.
As in other places across Wyoming, hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas is released during oil and gas development in the Deaver area. Particularly noticeable is the pungent rotten egg smell often associated with H2S.