Driller sees payoff in investment in hazard awareness training

An energy company says the training program it was required to conduct about hydrogen sulfide under a settlement agreement has succeeded in boosting statewide awareness about the potential hazard related to oil and gas development.

Noble Energy agreed to spend $50,000 on the awareness effort after hydrogen sulfide was found in a majority of its Piceance Basin natural gas wells in Garfield and Mesa counties. In some cases the hydrogen sulfide had reached dangerous levels.

Hydrogen sulfide is a gas that can cause serious health effects and even be deadly. Noble said proper worker safety measures were in place and the gas was contained to enclosed systems.

Hydrogen sulfide also was found in wells it had acquired in Weld County.

The issue first came to light when a former employee for a Noble contractor said he became ill from the substance while working at a Garfield County site in 2009. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the contractor for violations, including not providing respiratory protection, and fined it $2,000.

The settlement with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission arose from allegations that Noble didn’t follow requirements for reporting the encounters with hydrogen sulfide to authorities. However, the commission also acknowledged that those requirements needed to be clarified, something it subsequently did.

Michael Wozniak, an attorney representing Noble, told the oil and gas commission that it has conducted eight awareness programs — four more than required — around the state, including in Rifle and Durango. The target audience included entities such as emergency responders who may not be familiar with hydrogen sulfide. Other energy companies also were invited.

The sessions focused on things such as how to monitor for hydrogen sulfide and provide treatment in cases of exposure.

Hydrogen sulfide is not normally present in oil and gas in Colorado, but can be inadvertently introduced during operations such as well completions.

About 1,000 parties were invited to the awareness sessions and 51 accepted.

“We think the program is successful,” Wozniak said. “We were very pleased to be able to undertake this in an area that people just don’t know much about.”

Oil and gas Commissioner DeAnn Craig voiced disappointment over the turnout at the trainings about the dangerous gas.

“Maybe if this information is put on the (commission’s) website more and more people will understand how serious this can be in the wrong set of circumstances,” she said.

Commissioner Rich Alward of Grand Junction, an ecologist who does consulting work involving the industry, said he thinks the awareness effort is paying off. He said that after 10 years of doing such work he recently was required for the first time to wear a hydrogen sulfide monitor on the job.

“I feel that operators are already much more aware of this risk,” he said.


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