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A Comprehensive Proposal to Protect the Public from Dangerous Exposures to Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S)

Presentation before Department of Environmental Quality and Michigan Public Service Commission

July 22, 1997 | By Keith Schneider
and Arlin Wasserman
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Accidental and intentional releases of poisonous hydrogen sulfide (H2S) from oilfield installations in the 1990s have resulted in a reign of injuries, evacuations, and livestock deaths in Manistee and Mason counties. Chief among the causes is:

1.The lack of a defined health exposure limit to protect citizens.
2. The absence of scientifically sound air dispersion and risk assessment models to predict the outcomes of credible accidents.
3. Muddled jurisdictions and confusion about responsibilities among state agencies.
4. Antiquated laws that allow companies to keep secret vital information needed in emergencies.
5. The failure to establish enforceable penalties to improve industry performance.

The Michigan Land Use Institute, in partnership with Filer Township, the Human Health and Safety Committee, Citizens of Mason County, and Olson, Noonan, Ursu and Ringsmuth has prepared a comprehensive plan to remedy these flaws in state oversight. This plan, which seeks as its central goal the elimination of public health threats from H2S, makes the following recommendations:

*An interagency commission should immediately be formed to develop a coordinated oversight framework for ending the hazard from H2S releases from oil and gas installations. The public should be invited to participate on the commission.

*The evaluation of health hazards from H2S should become an integral part of the siting, permitting and regulating functions served by DEQ with respect to the oil and gas industry in Michigan. To do so in a credible and responsible fashion, the assessment of health hazards should be based on the best of medical and engineering technology.

A new public health exposure limit of 0.1 ppm must be established for H2S. This limit is based on the Department of Community Health's general recommendation for hazardous emissions, which takes 1/100 of the occupational limit as acceptable for public safety. If wells, pipelines, or processing facilities can not meet this standard, they should not be allowed.

*The DEQ's Air Quality Division should select a suitable air dispersion model sanctioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

*The Michigan Public Service Commission should develop a binding agreement with the DEQ that also includes a role for the Air Quality Division in evaluating the siting of pipelines that contain dangerous levels of H2S.

*The 90-day confidentiality clause that enables energy companies to protect sensitive data must be waived for any information related to public health concerns. New regulations are needed to require energy companies to disclose to local governments and citizens on a timely basis the ownership, H2S content, emergency response measures and other vital information to protect public safety.


Introduction and Overview ... 3

A Critique of Existing Rules; Lapses in Oversight ... 4

III. H2S Health Hazard Assessment ... 5, 6

IV. Hydrogen Sulfide Exposure Limits... 7, 8

V. Pipelines and Facilities... 9

Emergency Response... 10

A Township Perspective: Open the Lines of Communication... 11

State Jurisdiction & Regulatory Process Related to Regulation of H2S... 12, 13

IX. Summing Up... 14, 15

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