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Need for New Research and Exposure Models

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

Need for New Research and Exposure Models

*The DEQ, in consultation with the Department of Community Health and the US Environmental Protection Agency, should develop a better exposure threshold based on toxicological studies. We acknowledge that 0.1 ppm exposure may still pose too great a risk to the public health, but that the DEQ needs a quantifiable standard to use in the interim.

*Within 45 days, the MDEQ, in consultation with the EPA, should select an appropriate air dispersion model.

*Air dispersion models should consider the point of exposure, or "fenceline", to be existing homes, public facilities, and those parcels intended for residential use under zoning or in township and county master plans, including public parks, recreation areas, businesses, and areas planned for such uses.

*New wells, pipelines and processing facilities that fail to meet this safety standard should not be permitted and the MDEQ should have sole discretion in this matter, replacing the existing multi-jurisdictional system. All of the data on which decisions are based should be included in the public record.

*As additional information becomes available over the course of the drilling activity -- such as actual gas samples -- applicants must be required to reapply for permits, through a simple amendment process, to ensure that the best available information is used in approving or denying permits. Coordinated State Oversight, Uniform Jurisdiction for Pipelines

*The MPSC should develop a binding agreement with the DEQ that also includes a role for the Air Quality Division in evaluating any pipelines under its jurisdiction carrying dangerous levels of H2S.

*The DEQ should explicitly maintain oversight over all other portions of the infrastructure. Pipelines should be evaluated using the same tools available for single sources, such as wellheads and processing facilities.

*The MPSC should retain responsibility for regular inspection of any pipelines under its jurisdiction carrying dangerous levels of H2S and work with the MDEQ to ensure that flow lines used by single carriers also receive regular inspection.

New Role for the DEQ Air Quality Division

*The AQD should select a suitable dispersion model sanctioned by the EPA. This model should be made available at no cost to the regulated community, and also provide training and certification to individuals preparing this portion of the permit.

*The AQD should participate as an independent voice in future technical discussions to inform the participants about available modeling capabilities.

*After an application for a new well, pipeline or facility is made to the Geological Survey Division or MPSC, the Air Quality Division should review results from air dispersion analysis that is a part of all permitting activities.

*Only applications where modeling indicates that the public's potential level of exposure to H2S from the proposed development is below 0.1 ppm should be permitted. The Community Health Department can consult on the exposure standards. Through the CHD, local health departments can be contacted to ensure that basic information, such as land use, is current.

*A 45-day public comment period should be available before issuing permits so that interested parties can ensure the veracity of basic information. DEQ field staff can conduct site visits, consult with local officials, and take other steps to acquire data for use in dispersion analyses and other permitting needs. The intent is to assure that the permitting process, and the data used, conform with local rules, regulations, environmental conditions and zoning.

Preventive Emergency Notification, Preparedness and Response

Adoption of this plan, and its public health exposure limit of 0.1 ppm, would eliminate the need for emergency response. However, we recognize there are existing wells producing dangerous levels of H2S. Given that, measures must be taken to address preventive measures as outlined by Ron Gutowski.

We also take note that for producing wells that contain dangerous levels of H2S, local government must retain all their authority to oversee public health and safety. This recommended plan should in no way be seen as shielding producing wells from the actions of local governments to protect health and safety under existing law.

Shut in, or temporarily abandoned wells that do not meet the new public health exposure limit that we have proposed must be permanently plugged.

Reforms in Permitting

Significant reform in permitting is required to ensure that our natural resources are not wasted by permitting only portions of the infrastructure necessary to bring gas to market.

*Before new wells are permitted, the applicant must receive approval for the siting of flowlines, facilities and gathering lines. Only after the system for delivering gas to market is developed should a well permit be considered. This will prevent the waste of natural resources brought about by permitting wells that cannot deliver gas to market without posing an unreasonable threat to the public health.

*Permits for existing wells, pipelines and facilities should not be amended if amendments do not comply with recommended health and safety conditions.

*In all instances, the MDEQ should ensure that standards protective of the public health are used when deciding whether to grant or deny a permit.

We recognize the expansive nature of these reforms, and that some will not occur immediately. But the MDEQ's willingness to explore this issue and ability to consider public health concerns is crucial.

Immediate steps to ensure that new and potentially dangerous facilities are not developed near residences are essential. The citizens of northern Michigan looks forward to participating in the dialogue to develop specific technical standards and rules to protect the public health while continuing to market our natural resources.

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