Post Independent opinion: Industry should keep public, workers aware of presence, dangers of hydrogen sulfide |

Post Independent opinion: Industry should keep public, workers aware of presence, dangers of hydrogen sulfide

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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