Energy firm allegedly violates safety reporting

State oil and gas regulators are alleging Noble Energy violated requirements for reporting hydrogen sulfide gas encountered at oil and gas sites in Garfield County.

At the same time, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff is acknowledging there appear to be some ambiguities in the reporting requirements that need to be addressed.

In August, a former contractor employee, Carl Mc Williams, said he became ill from the substance in early March 2009 while working on a Noble site. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a Noble contractor for safety violations in the case.

After Mc Williams came forward, Noble said it was encountering the potentially deadly gas at a majority of its Piceance Basin natural gas wells, but proper worker-safety measures were in place. In September, oil and gas commission staff reported that in 41 actively producing Noble wells, levels were high enough to affect human health if exposure occurred, and four wells had particularly elevated levels.

But it said the substance is in enclosed systems, and there shouldn’t be a danger to residents.

Commission staff now contend Noble violated a rule requiring that any gas analysis indicating the presence of hydrogen sulfide shall be reported to the commission and a local governmental designee.

On March 13, 2009, Noble sent the state an email saying it had encountered hydrogen sulfide in the area. It says Noble contends commission staff then notified it verbally that such notifications were unnecessary. The staff involved don’t recall providing such advice, the notice says.

While notifications ceased, Noble did take steps, including adopting a hydrogen sulfide safety plan, the notice says.

The notice requires numerous actions by Noble, including indicating a radius of hydrogen sulfide exposure between wells and the closest occupied structure or publicly accessible areas, and explaining the root cause for hydrogen sulfide being found in the wells.

Piceance Basin natural gas usually doesn’t have naturally occurring hydrogen sulfide. The substance can be introduced during well completion.

Commission Director David Neslin said the Noble situation, and talks with other companies, led to his staff deciding to look at clarifying the reporting requirement. One revision could involve making clear whether a phone call, email or more formal document is required for reporting.

Noble spokesman Stephen Flaherty said Noble doesn’t feel like it’s a victim of an unclear rule, but it supports looking into possible clarification.

He declined to respond in detail to the state notice while Noble prepares its formal response.


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