Michigan Land Use Institute

MLUI / Articles from 1995 to 2012 / IX. Summing Up

IX. Summing Up

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

Both the MPSC and the DEQ should be congratulated for this proactive effort to address an emerging public health and environmental issue as well as for coordinating efforts. Indeed, one of the strongest criticisms has not been the lack of effort but rather the lack of coordination among agencies to regulate this single issue.

Michigan's business community routinely comments on the need to coordinate regulation. The citizens agree on this matter.

We are concerned because some agencies do not exercise an appropriate level of oversight. But we also agree that the entire regulatory structure could be simplified while at the same time providing a greater level of safety. A coordinated effort with a single responsible agency is needed to ensure the public health and environment are protected from the dangers associated with hydrogen sulfide.

To that end, you have heard specific recommendations included in the eight previous presentations. We urge your agencies to implement some of these changes immediately while recognizing that these changes do not represent the full regulatory structure that will apply to natural gas containing hydrogen sulfide.

We also must work together to develop better tools and information. There are areas of the natural gas industry not covered in these recommendations but that need to be encompassed under future regulations.

These recommendations are based on the best available information, but still may expose the public to an unacceptable level of risk. Indeed, many of the interim reforms are intended solely to make necessary information available to the public in a timely and organized manner, which is a starting point for effective policy.

Clearly, there is a great deal of work remaining:

*Public health experts must be consulted to determine the appropriate threshold of exposure for protecting the most sensitive members of our population.

*The MPSC and DEQ must develop a formal binding agreement regarding the delegation of authorities.

*State and local governments must continue to work on this and other issues to ensure that development occur in a manner consistent with Michigan communities' best land planning. We appreciate this initial effort by the DEQ and the MPSC to include the public in the process and trust that we will have a permanent presence at the table. We urge the DEQ and MPSC to immediately enact the following reforms and stop gap measures:

Access to Information

*The MDEQ should modify existing rules on reporting and the confidentiality of proprietary data to ensure that the public is well informed of potential risks but without disclosing sensitive market information. Specifically:

*The industry must be required to report on any release of H2S whether intentional or accidental where any public complaints are received, exposed populations seek medical care, or equipment malfunctions are identified regardless of the value of equipment damaged.

*Operators must inform emergency responders and local health care providers prior to conducting activities, such as igniting a flare or servicing a vapor recovery system, where a foreseeable release may occur. This prior information requirement also applies when initiating any dangerous operations, such as plugging a well.

*That portion of the permit for new wells, pipelines or infrastructure that contains data relevant to determining potential exposure of the public to H2S must be available for public review. This includes expected flow rate, pressure, gas temperature and H2S content based on laboratory analysis of gas samples.

*The MDEQ should publish annually a review of releases and safety concerns.

A New Public Exposure Safety Standard

*The exposure of citizens to likely releases should not exceed 0.1 ppm based on the best available air dispersion models. New wells, pipelines and processing facilities should be sited only after it is determined that they do not pose a threat to the public health. This health-based standard should be one of the criteria used in approving or denying permits for new wells, pipelines and facilities.

*New wells, pipelines and processing facilities that handle natural gas containing dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide -- those that can expose the public to concentrations greater than 0.1 ppm --should not be permitted.

(continued on next page)

Michigan Land Use Institute

148 E. Front Street, Suite 301
Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
p (231) 941-6584 
e comments@mlui.org