Noble settlement to fund hydrogen sulfide education

Noble Energy will contribute $50,000 to hydrogen sulfide awareness to settle allegations that it violated reporting requirements associated with the dangerous gas at its oil and gas operations in Garfield and Weld counties.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Monday unanimously approved the settlement agreement between the agency and Noble.

In doing so, a commission member said the issue of hydrogen sulfide merits continued monitoring by agency staff members because of the safety threat involved.

“Let’s stay on top of this. We owe it to the people of the state,” said oil and gas commissioner DeAnn Craig, an industry consultant and petroleum engineer by training.

Hydrogen sulfide is unusual in oil and gas in Colorado, but can be inadvertently introduced during operations such as well completion operations. The presence of the gas at Noble sites came to public attention in 2011 when a former contractor for Noble said he became ill from the substance while working at a Garfield County Noble site in 2009.

Noble said it was encountering the potentially deadly gas at a majority of its Piceance Basin natural gas wells, in some cases at dangerous levels, but that proper worker safety measures were in place. It also said no residences were nearby and the gas was contained to enclosed systems.

Noble also encountered the gas in wells it had recently purchased in a Weld County gas field.

When it first encountered the gas in Garfield County, Noble notified the Bureau of Land Management, but didn’t follow the state requirement to also notify the commission or a local government designee. However, state officials also acknowledged a need to clarify reporting requirements, which the agency did this year.

Michael Wozniak, an attorney representing Noble, told the commission some local government designees have wondered what they should do if they receive a hydrogen sulfide notification. That prompted the idea of using the settlement money to educate them.

“We thought that it would be … a better use of the funds to establish a program so if people got a call they would know who to call, what to do, and how to react,” Wozniak said.

Peter Gowen, a commission hearing officer, said it didn’t matter to agency staff whether the money goes to an education effort or the agency’s environmental response fund.

“We did insist on a payment of this magnitude,” he said.

Oil and gas commissioner John Benton, who also is an executive for an energy company, lauded the idea of using the money for education, adding, “H2S is probably one of the most dangerous things to deal with in the industry.”


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