When a well pad is planned within 3,000 feet of your property, you will receive via registered mail a large packet from the oil and gas company. This can be quite an ordeal as you will more than likely live in a rural area with the customary location of your mailbox at the end of the road, possibly a mile away. Because you may live far enough away from your mailbox, commonly down a gravel road, over and/or through creeks, your mail carrier is not required to deliver special packages to your door. In the case of registered mail, someone from the USPS will call or leave a note in the mailbox to let you know that there is something that must be signed for. You can either meet the mail carrier or drive over 40 minutes to the post office to pick up said piece of mail. If you’re lucky to telecommute from home, as was the case for me, it’s easiest to meet the mail carrier at the mailboxes.
During the brutal winter of 2014, our phone line was severed on a couple occasions. Once from a broken tree limb, which had cracked under the weight of snow, the other from bulldozers working on behalf of oil and gas companies severing buried phone lines. Phone line destruction due to inclement weather is one thing, and far easier to repair than a cut line somewhere underground. Imagine for a moment, you’re telecommuting, you have satellite Internet which has download limits and delays therefore Skype is unusable, there is no cell phone service and now your phone has been cut off. If it’s a limb, the phone company can fix within a day or two. If it’s a severed line thanks to frack pad excavating, you could, like I had to, wait up to 10 days for a fix. Our phone lines were cut so often, I became friendly with the regional general manager of the phone company.
The phone scenario, both interrupted service and lack of cell phone access occurs far too often in rural areas across this entire country. This can disrupt getting important mail in a timely manner as well as having no contact for emergency services. When you are receiving any kind of time sensitive mail, particularly packets about well pads 1500 and 1800 feet your front door with a 30-day commenting period, lack of communication can be unnerving to say the least. Factoring in the hazards involved with an industrial operation coming so close to your property, as well as basic risks of living, phone service is an essential life saving tool.
Drawing an Epsom salt bath, I took the packets I had received two weeks after the initial mail date due to weather and no phone; lit a few relaxation candles and immersed myself in Oil and Gas safety propaganda. There were many issues that caught my attention: one of which was a blatant lie that we were signed leaseholders. Something they had tried to get us to do for a few years (I still keep my collection of lease please letters) however, we flat out refused to sign. As a former mineral owner, I am here to say that not all mineral owners want a fracking operation or pipeline on their property. Almost more important than their lie, is the concept that the oil and gas company can determine on their own volition where those minerals that you own exist on the property that you own and pay taxes on. However, that’s another story for another day. The other item of note which stood out was a small little section about hydrogen sulfide, a.k.a two whiff death a.k.a. sour gas or H2S. The paperwork stated that in known areas of H2S they would follow appropriate protocols (protocols that were not listed but, hey, at least they said there were protocols). The question was how do *WE* the property owners know whether or not we are in a known H2S area.
According to the OSHA’s Oil and Gas Drilling etool: “Hydrogen Sulfide or sour gas (H2S) is a flammable, colorless gas that is toxic at extremely low concentrations. It is heavier than air, and may accumulate in low-lying areas. It smells like “rotten eggs” at low concentrations and causes you to quickly lose your sense of smell. Many areas where the gas is found have been identified, but pockets of the gas can occur anywhere.“ Call me crazy but these permitted well pads were going to be located on hills above a low lying hollow and I was a bit concerned for the neighbors who would be most affected, particularly their young children. Considering the seriousness of H2S wouldn’t it be important for those living around these operations to know whether or not the area was an H2S zone?
I wrote an email to the WVDEP and cc’d the oil and gas company, asking to verify whether or not the area that has just permitted several well pads about my neighborhood was in a known pocket. This question went unanswered, so I took to the internet webs to find out for myself. What I found out was hydrogen sulfide is naturally occurring everywhere! Decomposition from compost to manure to road kill to ancient pockets of coal seams and shale host hydrogen sulfide it even exists in water wells. Though in water wells, while the rotten egg smell is unpleasant, it is not as worrisome for some reason (see this page for more information on water wells and H2S).
However, Hydrogen Sulfide is such a concern for oil and gas workers, that they are required to wear monitors with access to respirators. A friend of mine just sent me her latest packet of info, which varies from the original document I had although from the same oil and gas company. Unfortunately, my original document, which will be scanned at a later date, currently rests in one of my many safe places…so safe I can’t find it at the moment. However, in my friend’s packet of information is the safety plan for the frack rig in case of H2S.
What strikes me, as a potential safety hazard for neighboring residents to these well pads is this one little paragraph:
Any influx into the wellbore should be assumed to contain H2S. The size of the influx, amount of under balance, formation character, weather conditions etc., should be considered when deciding to circulate out or pump away the influx. If the decision is made to circulate out the H2S kick, clear the rig floor and restricted area of all unnecessary personnel and take the following precautions.
During my research I stumbled upon a Masters Thesis on health impacts of Hydrogen Sulfide, written in 2006 by Lana Skritic from UC Berkley. Here’s a link to her well-researched and documented PDF. In regards to chronic low level exposure she states:
Generally, chronic exposure to low level concentrations of hydrogen sulfide is associated with neurological symptoms that include fatigue, loss of appetite, irritability, impaired memory, altered moods, headaches, and dizziness.71 At persistent concentrations of 0.250 to 0.300 ppm (250 to 300 ppb), the rotten egg odor of H2S creates a nuisance to communities, and exposure to such concentrations has been documented to affect quality of life by causing headaches, nausea, and sleep disturbances.72 (p. 19, Hydrogen Sulfide, Oil and Gas, and People’s Health)
The following information from OSHA charts the various effects to exposure of H2S.
|0.00011-0.00033||Typical background concentrations|
|0.01-1.5||Odor threshold (when rotten egg smell is first noticeable to some). Odor becomes more offensive at 3-5 ppm. Above 30 ppm, odor described as sweet or sickeningly sweet.|
|2-5||Prolonged exposure may cause nausea, tearing of the eyes, headaches or loss of sleep. Airway problems (bronchial constriction) in some asthma patients.|
|20||Possible fatigue, loss of appetite, headache, irritability, poor memory, dizziness.|
|50-100||Slight conjunctivitis (“gas eye”) and respiratory tract irritation after 1 hour. May cause digestive upset and loss of appetite.|
|100||Coughing, eye irritation, loss of smell after 2-15 minutes (olfactory fatigue). Altered breathing, drowsiness after 15-30 minutes. Throat irritation after 1 hour. Gradual increase in severity of symptoms over several hours. Death may occur after 48 hours.|
|100-150||Loss of smell (olfactory fatigue or paralysis).|
|200-300||Marked conjunctivitis and respiratory tract irritation after 1 hour. Pulmonary edema may occur from prolonged exposure.|
|500-700||Staggering, collapse in 5 minutes. Serious damage to the eyes in 30 minutes. Death after 30-60 minutes.|
|700-1000||Rapid unconsciousness, “knockdown” or immediate collapse within 1 to 2 breaths, breathing stops, death within minutes.|
|1000-2000||Nearly instant death|
Taken verbatim from the packet:
The site supervisor, or an appointed designee, shall work closely with the local first responders in the area prior to drilling to familiarize them with potential incidents that are related to oil and gas development (unreadable) be utilized and to help implement Well Site Safety Plan. (Note: it’s about the well site safety NOT the safety for the residents.)
H2S is a low-lying gas; think of it as an invisible fog, rolling down the hill from a frack pad into the low-lying valley or hollow below. Anyone who has lived in a valley or hollow, knows dust and smoke do not dissipate quickly, it is the same with hydrogen sulfide. As is the case of the frack pads that were once near me. There are homes with small children located at the base of the hill below the pad. Further disconcerting is that no where in this documentation does oil and gas explain when they will tell their neighbors about the H2S kick or when they will be clearing the rig floor. While the ppm of H2S might not reach (operative words ‘MIGHT NOT”) a deadly ppm to those who live in homes downwind, there are clear health effects to exposure higher than 0.2.
Are those who are exposed to low levels of H2S from fracking operations near by being tracked by anyone in the medical community? Is someone’s sleepless night the cause of stress from the noise of the frack pad, property devaluation, or is it because they are breathing in constant low levels of sour gas? I have friends that are complaining about memory loss. While they may be older I wonder perhaps if this issue is from H2S exposure from all the various fracking operations that surround their home than from aging or stress of what they’re going through. Are epidemiologists keeping a record of these issues? Are people who study memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s investigating the exposure to hydrogen sulfide? Wouldn’t it be prudent to gather this data, which could prove helpful in the future, particularly for those who are impacted by H2S kicks or other vapor releases. Is memory loss due to H2S exposure temporary? Or is chronic low level exposure, causing permanent neurological damage?
How are the innocent by-standers, who now have new industrial neighbors, protected from an H2S kick? They are not given monitors or respirators, so where do the responsibilities lie for these residents? County commissioners? State government? Federal government? Anyone? No one?
There is a potential for disaster in most back hollow rural areas, as there is only one way in and one way out; back roads are typically so narrow that only one cars can pass slowly, but when met with large trucks passing becomes almost impossible. What if oil and gas company has decided to release H2S and clear the frack floor. The phone is out therefore no neighbors can be called, NO emergency services can be called by residents and the only thing to do is go door to door to those who live in the immediate area – and what are the risks to the person having to go door to door? And the risk of panic from neighbors?
While every county has an evacuation plan, those plans are usually made available by request at the county courthouse. My question to the county powers who have embraced the “prosperity” which oil and gas supposedly bring to a community: Why aren’t there laminated evacuation routes given to each resident who live within a certain area of fracking operations at the same time well pads are permitted? Why are there no evacuation routes printed in the weekly newspaper, to ensure more residents are made aware of existing dangers with the know how to get out of harms way quickly and efficiently? If communities continue to allow fracking and pipelines, shouldn’t it be required of those elected to serve the residents come up with a viable risk management plan and publicly promote said plan every which way possible?
As I finished up this post a few new articles came to my attention, and I think they are important for you to know about.
Oil and gas workers put their lives at risk every day, I certainly wish they didn’t have to:
Suspected Inhalation Fatalities Involving Workers during Manual Tank Gauging, Sampling, and Fluid Transfer Operations on Oil and Gas Well Sites, 2010-2014. Read the Story Here.
Oil pump explodes, releases hydrogen sulfide neighbors in the area immediately evacuated.
Read the Story Here.
PS: There is one other item about hydrogen sulfide that was not mentioned above. Did you know that H2S is known to be corrosive to pipelines and concrete? Read more about it here.