Something doesn’t smell right

September 9, 2011

Colorado, Garfield County, gas wells

Below are the most recent news stories about the existence of dangerous high levels of hydrogen sulfide detected at drilling sites in Garfield County.

COGCC commissioner voices ‘concerns’ about H2S
Alward wonders, ‘Did something slip past us?’

Do these guys really think they can get away with claiming ignorance?

State: Hydrogen sulfide gas found at near-fatal levels south of Parachute
No danger to public, COGCC report claim

Ok, this almost seems like an Onion headline. Except it’s not. How can near-fatal levels of H2S not be a danger to the public? If it didn’t go into the atmosphere, where did it go? How was it detected?

Do these workers look like they're wearing protective gear?

Udall looking into hydrogen sulfide poisoning report
Gas worker’s widow wants investigation

The 2009 incident involving Carl McWilliams and Troy Orth when they worked for Lightning Wireline appears to be the only link to proving a public health risk from hydrogen sulfide.

Even though the COGCC is conducting “an investigation”, if past history is any indication, the so-called investigation will drag on until no one is paying attention anymore. Then at some point in the not-too-distant future a final report will be quietly released reiterating the claim they already put out into the media: “No danger to the public”. It will look as though the oil & gas industry, the COGCC, and other governmental entities spent more time and money figuring out how to spin this than actually investigating.

The oil & gas industry and the COGCC have a convenient way of investigating, or studying, issues like water quality and air quality. They are happy to address those issues as long as they don’t involve public health implications. They never look at the long-term impacts of any aspect of gas well drilling, especially public health.

As to the long-term effects of even low levels of hydrogen sulfide, this is from Earthworks [emphasis added]:

Health Effects from H2S Exposure
Common symptoms of exposure to long-term, low levels of hydrogen sulfide include headache, skin complications, respiratory and mucous membrane irritation, respiratory soft tissue damage and degeneration, confusion, impairment of verbal recall, memory loss, and prolonged reaction time. Exposure to high concentrations can cause unconsciousness, known as “knockdown,” and can be lethal.

Meanwhile the state has pulled their Battlement Mesa air quality grant application.

State kills Battlement Mesa air quality grant application
Official: Participants disagree about study ‘parameters’

First the BOCC scrapped the HIA, now this. It’s funny how they blame it on politics. The politicians seem to be on the side of oil & gas. On the other side is public health. What is it they don’t want to know? Battlement Mesa is directly south of Parachute where the dangerous levels of H2S were detected.

Locals wonder why state pulled back from air quality study
Gas industry suggests a data-only air monitoring alternative

There it is. Toward the end of the article, David Ludlam, director of the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), “conceded that among gas drillers in Garfield County, ‘there was an unspoken uncomfortability’ with the School of Public Health approach, which he described as being ‘focused on interpreting data for its public health implications’.”

Puzzling. What other purpose would there be for an air quality study? Maybe it’s just me, but the scuttling of air quality studies in the same area where dangerous levels of H2S were recently detected seems somehow connected.

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