Monday, November 03, 2014

Deadly gas on the rise in oil fields; more residents complaining of 'sour gas' smell

Deadly gas is on the rise in oil fields, and more and more residents are complaining of a "sour gas" smell, Mike Lee reports for Environment and Energy News. "Neither the states nor the federal government tracks the amount of hydrogen sulfide production, but complaints and permitting related to hydrogen sulfide are growing in four states, according to documents and interviews. The gas is deadly in small amounts. It can stop a person's breathing at a concentration of 500 parts per million and render people unconscious within seconds at 700 parts per million."

"There's a catch, too: As the concentration increases, the gas deadens people's sense of smell, making it hard for them to detect the danger. And if that's not enough, it can corrode steel and iron," Lee writes. "It has killed at least five oil field workers since the beginning of 2013 and in 1975 was responsible for one of the worst oil field accidents ever." (Lee photo: A sign on an oilfield tank battery in Odessa, Texas, warns workers to use gas masks)

Lee's story is part of a series called "Danger Zone," which also looked at whether chemicals played a role in oil tank deaths, the high rate of oil and gas worker deaths and how more oil and gas workers die in fires and explosions than any other private industry.

Comparing the rates of deadly gas among the states is difficult because each state keeps different records, Lee writes. In 2013, Kansas regulators received 15 requests to flare gas containing hydrogen sulfide, up from three in 2012 and none in 2009 to 2011.

"Oklahoma regulators calculated that oil and gas operators emitted 594 tons of hydrogen sulfide in 2011 and are planning to do more monitoring of air emissions overall," Lee writes. "In New Mexico, which shares patches of the sour gas-producing Permian Basin with Texas, state officials received reports of five hydrogen sulfide releases in 2013 after receiving none in 2012 and four in 2011."

"Texas tracks the amount of gas produced in fields that also have hydrogen sulfide although it doesn't track the actual amounts of hydrogen sulfide, and not all of the gas produced in those fields is sour," Lee writes. "The amount of gas from hydrogen sulfide-containing fields rose 48 percent over five years, from 1.2 trillion cubic feet in 2009 to 1.7 trillion cubic feet. The state requires special permits for oil wells, pipelines and processing plants that handle gas containing more than 100 parts per million of hydrogen sulfide. The state issued 6,906 of the permits in 2013, up 63 percent from the 4,233 it issued in 2009." (Read more)

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