When it comes to oil and gas news, it's hard to beat 'fracking' for a more buzz-worthy topic. Add 'hydrogen sulfide gas' to the headline, though, and and expect eyebrows to rise.
A Sunday report in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent presented evidence the toxic gas, which can cause severe respiratory distress and death, has been documented in various concentrations at oil and gas drilling sites in Colorado.
Exposure to the gas at low concentrations can cause headache, dizziness, and upset stomach. At higher concentrations, gas inhalation triggers unconsciousness and death through respiratory paralysis.
A 2006 study titled 'Hydrogen Sulfide, Oil and Gas, and People's Health,' notes hydrogen sulfide develops naturally in conjunction with crude oil and natural gas, with 15 to 25 percent of U.S. gas wells likely 'soured.'
Established processes for removing the gas in processing facilities have been demonstrated effective, though homeowners near wells report feeling ill. Additionally, several workers have also grown ill after documented safety violations.
The reports have triggered Global Community Monitor to launch the 'Bucket Brigade' project, a community-led air monitoring program. Residents who live near oil and gas operations in Colorado and New Mexico gather air samples and submit them for lab analysis. A report published in July tested nine of the samples and found 22 toxic chemicals, including four carcinogens at levels ranging from 3 to 3,000 times higher than established safety limits.
A sample by the Bucket Brigade contained hydrogen sulfide gas at levels 185 times higher than a threshold set by the EPA as posing long-term health risks to humans.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is tasked with investigating reports of hydrogen sulfide gas. Officials are expected to report their findings Monday in Denver.
Watch a KREX report on hydrogen sulfide at oil and gas sites.