A Garfield County official said it
is up to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to investigate
reports that hydrogen sulfide gas, which experts say can cause severe
respiratory problems and even death, is showing up at natural-gas drilling
operations in this region.
“It's an oil and gas issue,” said
Garfield County Environmental Health Manager Jim Rada, when asked about an Aug.
4 report in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel that the Noble Energy natural gas
company had encountered the gas during drilling operations.
State officials at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC)
said on Friday that they are looking into the report, and plan on presenting
their findings to the commission at a meeting today in Denver.
The appearance of hydrogen sulfide during gas drilling operations is not
necessarily a new issue, Rada said.
“Hydrogen sulfide has been an issue with reserve tanks and pits in the past,”
he said, referring to equipment and facilities commonly found in association
with oil and gas drilling operations.
According to the news report, Noble Energy, which is operating in Garfield
County, has regularly encountered the gas during drilling operations.
In one instance in 2009, Silt Mesa resident Carl McWilliams grew ill after
inhaling the gas while working for a contractor at a Noble Energy drilling site
in Garfield County.
The incident resulted in a complaint by McWilliams to the Occupational Safety
and Health Administration, which fined McWilliams's employer, Lonkar Services
(USA) $2,000 for violating worker safety rules while doing contract work for
Nobel reportedly confirmed that since that incident, its drilling crews have
regularly encountered hydrogen sulfide at relatively minor levels.
This runs counter to industry and government statements that hydrogen sulfide
is only rarely found in the Piceance Basin gas fields, which include much of
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, hydrogen sulfide, or H2S, is
a hazardous and toxic gas that, when inhaled, can cause severe respiratory
distress, headaches, loss of motor control and memory and other human
malfunctions. It is produced when certain bacteria consume sulfur-bearing
At concentrations below 30 parts per million (ppm) is puts off a smell like
rotten eggs. At 100 ppm or more, it can paralyze the olfactory nerve and cause
a loss of the sense of smell.
Exposure at increasing concentrations can cause nausea and vomiting, difficulty
breathing, shock, convulsions and death in the most severe cases.
“Deaths due to breathing in large amounts of hydrogen sulfide have been
reported in a variety of different work settings, including sewers, animal
processing plants, waste dumps, sludge plants, oil and gas well drilling sites,
and tanks and cesspools,” stated the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and
Attempts to reach Noble Energy in Denver were not successful on Friday.
One alleged case of H2S toxicity occurred earlier this year when a Silt Mesa
family, the Strudleys, reported smelling rotten eggs in their home, which was
close to a drilling rig operated by Antero Resources.
A June 15 air sample, taken by volunteers in a Bucket Brigade community
monitoring effort, reported finding hydrogen sulfide gas in the Strudley home
at high concentrations.
The Global Community Monitor group reported the gas occurred at 185 times the
level set by the Environmental Protection Agency as posing long-term health
risks to humans.
Dave Neslin, director of the COGCC, said he is searching the agency's archives
to determine if it has gotten reports from Noble or other drilling companies
regarding the appearance of hydrogen sulfide.
Rule 607 in the COGCC regulations states, “any gas analysis indicating the
presence of hydrogen sulfide gas shall be reported to the Commission” and to
the local government.
Phone calls on Friday to the Garfield County oil and gas liaison office,
seeking comment on this story, were not answered.