COGCC commissioner voices ‘concerns’ about H2S
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
A commissioner for the state’s oil and gas oversight agency says he is concerned the agency overlooked reports that a toxic gas was being encountered at near-fatal levels on Western Slope drilling sites.
“Yes, I have concerns on multiple levels, and not just as a commissioner,” said Richard Alward of Grand Junction, who sits on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
His comments come after the oil and gas commission staff confirmed that Noble Energy reported encountering hydrogen sulfide gas, which can be fatal to humans in certain concentrations, at more than 300 of its Piceance Basin wells in the area in 2009.
“I don’t recall being informed of anything at the time,” Alward said. “Did something slip past us as commissioners? Where did something of this importance get overlooked?
“Now that I’m aware of what sorts of levels are being discovered, I am really concerned about what the resolution of this is going to be,” Alward said.
Alward serves as one of two oil and gas commission members representing the Western Slope. He is a principal ecologist and environmental scientist at Aridlands Natural Resource Consulting in Grand Junction, and is an adjunct instructor of environmental science at Colorado Mesa University.
In addition to his service on the oil and gas commission board, Alward is a contractor who works in the gas fields, helping to conduct surveys that catalogue wildlife and plants that may be affected by drilling activities.
“I have concerns about my own health, and the health of people who live and work in the Piceance,” he said, referring to the natural-gas-bearing geologic formation that encompasses portions of western Colorado, eastern Utah and southern Wyoming.
He said the oil and gas commission staff continues to investigate the matter, and an update is expected at the commission’s meeting on Monday, Sept. 19.
In a presentation last week to the Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum in Rifle, Stuart Ellsworth, engineering manager for the oil and gas commission, said a search of the agency’s records showed that hydrogen sulfide gas has been reported at 312 of Noble’s 353 producing wells in the area. In most instances, the gas was encountered a concentrations lower than 10 parts per million (ppm).
That level of exposure, characteristically smelling of rotten eggs, is considered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to be relatively harmless.
But in four incidents, Ellsworth reported, Noble encountered hydrogen sulfide gas at concentrations of 100, 170, 200 and 450 ppm. Exposure at those levels can cause loss of the sense of smell, breathing difficulties, eye irritation and, at around 500-700 ppm, death.
One former gas patch worker, Carl McWilliams of Silt Mesa, has reported becoming seriously ill in 2009 after being exposed repeatedly to hydrogen sulfide at about 100 ppm, while working for Noble contractor Lonkar Services Ltd. at a producing Noble Energy well.
McWilliams was later fired, and Lonkar has rejected McWilliams’ assertions. The company was cited and fined by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Heath Administration in 2009 for inadequate worker safety measures at the gas wells.
Noble has stated that it had worker safety guidelines in place at the time of the incident.
E-mailed questions to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director Dave Neslin, sent on Tuesday, were not answered.
Attempts to obtain a comment from a Noble spokesman were not successful.
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