VII. A Township Perspective: Open the Lines of Communication
July 22, 1997 | By Arlin Wasserman
and Jim Espvik
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service
My name is Jim Espvik. I am the Filer Township Supervisor. Being a public official in a township where activities involving dangerous levels of H2S are taking place becomes very frustrating when we are left out of the communication-information loop between the oil and gas industry and the DEQ.
End the 90-day confidentiality clause.
The 90-day State-approved confidentiality clause needs to be changed. As written it allows the oil and gas industry to come into our quiet community and cut trees, put in access roads, set up drilling rigs, and drill and test wells. All the while the peace and tranquillity of the quiet neighborhoods is disturbed with no regard for the safety of the people living in the area. And no information is given to the public or township officials as to the H2S content and duration of the project.
The information relating to the public health and safety -- H2S content or any releases that may have occurred -- must be made available immediately, not 90 days after the fact. This is not only a health and safety issue but also good public relations for the company to open the lines of communication with the people that may be affected by the project.
The township is not even allowed this information by means of a Freedom of Information Act request until after the 90 days. The public has the right to know of the possible dangers of the hazardous chemicals that they may be exposed to.
Change the accident reporting criteria.
In the event of a release or accident the system used in reporting them is completely inadequate. The only accidents or releases that are required to be reported are those that cause in patient hospitalization of people, or $5,000.00 or more in damages.
The DEQ must eliminate the economic damage threshold and require companies to report to the DEQ any leak or accident that caused injuries, evacuations, or medical treatment to any person affected by the same. An annual report should be published with information as to locations, number of people involved, and the corrective action taken.
The DEQ must institute and enforce much stiffer sanctions and penalties against companies that fail to comply with procedures and standards, with the penalties increasing to those companies that continue to violate the law or are repeat offenders.
Changes in ownership and management of wells, pipelines and facilities that contain dangerous levels of H2S must be publicly available on a timely basis.
New regulations are needed to require well and facility owners to keep local government informed of the personnel changes. We need to know who is responsible for the facility or well site, and who is trained to respond in the event of an emergency. The emergency telephone numbers of those people should be on file with the local Emergency Coordinator, the local fire department, and law enforcement. Again, the emergency numbers must be posted at the site.
When interest is sold to another company all information needs to be updated within a reasonable period of time to these agencies. Sites need to be inspected prior to permits being transferred to new owners to make sure emergency procedures are in compliance with the standards. Contingency plans need to be site specific not general and should be reviewed before any permits are issued.