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Drilling byproduct contains carcinogens

By Jeremy Heiman

Special to the Post Independent



Condensate is a liquid associated with natural gas deposits, made up of numerous petrochemical compounds. The stuff condenses as the gas comes to the surface, where it is separated out and stored in tanks at well sites.

Condensate, like the natural gas it accompanies, is a marketable commodity. The substance is hauled by truck to petroleum refineries, where it is separated into its component products, many of which are used in industry.



A material safety data sheet (MSDS) for natural gas condensate states that the substance is “[a] complex combination of hydrocarbons separated and/or condensed from natural gas….” The MSDS also indicates that condensate “[c]ontains benzene, a regulated human carcinogen. Benzene has the potential to cause anemia and other blood diseases, including leukemia, after repeated and prolonged exposure.”

A different MSDS for condensate adds that it also typically contains some amount of toluene, ethylbenzene and various types of xylene. Together with benzene, these last three make up what are known as the BTEX chemicals. Several of these chemicals were found to be polluting Divide Creek south of Silt, after a natural gas seep developed in and along the creek in March.

Condensate may also contain hydrogen sulfide (a chemical that smells like rotten eggs). However, Doug Dennison, oil and gas auditor for Garfield County, said gas produced in Garfield County does not contain significant amounts of hydrogen sulfide.

In 2002 Colorado air quality officials discovered, through an air monitoring program in the Denver area, that gas wells rival emissions from power plants, refineries, and factories as contributors to the region’s smog. So-called flash emissions – the rapid evaporation of condensate – at numerous gas drilling sites in Weld County, north of Denver, result in the release of tens of thousands of tons of volatile organic compounds.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently required that hundreds of Weld County condensate tanks and compressor stations be equipped with devices to eliminate this source of pollution.

Contact Jeremy Heiman: 945-8515, ext. 534

jheiman@postindependent.com


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