Officials agree emergency plan has holes after Christmas Eve gas leak
This story has been updated.
CRAWFORD COUNTY — The plan to alert people of an emergency at an injection well where a leak of poisonous hydrogen sulfide occurred Christmas Eve had gaps in contact information and home addresses of neighboring residents.
BreitBurn Energy, which operates the Seely No. 5 injection well that leaked Dec. 24, is reportedly in the process of updating the list of names, addresses and phone numbers for the 44 homes near the injection well in Crawford County’s Beaver Creek Township.
Officials said those people were not alerted during the incident because the gas plume was being carried by wind away from the homes nearest to the well.
“We knew the wind was taking it away from residents and (the well) is a quarter mile away from houses,” said Bill Duley, geologist with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), who responded to the scene that day at the facility southwest of Grayling. “We were calling people who were in the way of the plume.”
Duley said that if the wind had been blowing toward those houses when the leak occurred, “it would’ve triggered an evacuation.”
Duley spoke at a meeting with about 25 residents of Beaver Creek Township Tuesday night organized by resident Marian Long, who lives near the injection well and numerous other oil and gas wells.
Long said she was never notified of the Christmas Eve leak, which occurred when a valve on the wellhead failed at approximately 2:30 a.m. and leaked for four hours, sending an estimated 135,000 cubic feet of gas into the air before it was shut off. The well contains 80 percent hydrogen sulfide (H2S), a poisonous byproduct of oil and gas production, according to the DEQ.
Long, who holds a master’s degree in nursing, hosted the meeting to inform her neighbors about the dangers of H2S and allow them to question officials about an emergency plan.
“We live at the edge of an oil field and that’s why we’re here tonight,” she said. “Living near these sour gas wells affects us … Any one of these is a source of potential leaks or spills.”
Township fire chief Ed Holtcamp said that because of the gaps in contact information and because the rural neighborhood near the well is so spread out, his department’s emphasis is on “shutting in” a well that is leaking. He said his personnel are trained and capable of performing emergency shutoffs on wells and gas lines and that BreitBurn installs remote shutoff switches away from wellheads and lines for the safety of those charged with shutting off the well.
“The leak was closed off quick after it was detected,” Holtcamp said. “Problem is, it blew for a couple hours before that.”
Duley said BreitBurn workers would be the first to respond to a leak.
When the valve failed on Christmas Eve, a sensor detected the leak and stopped the flow of gas into the well. Another valve failed to stop the gas already in the well from coming out, allowing the leak to go on.
In a phone message, BreitBurn spokesperson Greg Brown said automatic emergency shutoff valves were installed on the injection well in March. He said BreitBurn wasn’t invited to the meeting in Beaver Creek Township.
H2S can be detected as a “rotten egg smell” by humans in concentrations of parts per billion and can start to irritate the senses at around 10 parts per million (ppm). At concentrations of 150 ppm the sense of smell is deadened and higher concentrations can cause unconsciousness and death.
H2S monitors located downwind as far as M-72, capable of detecting concentrations of 5 ppm, did not go off, according to Duley. The plume was smelled as far north as the Mackinac Bridge.
A BreitBurn spokesperson said people were smelling mercaptans — sulfur compounds that do not dissipate as quickly as H2S.
Long said she feels out-of-date regulations have contributed to a weak emergency plan and allows wells and pipelines to be too close to homes.
“I feel the DEQ really does care and has the best interest of people at heart, but they’re dealing with old regulations that are inadequate,” she said. “In the absence of a strong, enforceable, effective contingency plan, the burden is on the powers that be to ensure prevention (of an accident).”
Long is heading an effort to have two proposed wells be located away from homes and to have a pipeline, slated for repairs, to be relocated farther from her neighborhood.
If people smell sour gas they are asked to call BreitBurn’s 24/7 hotline, 888-250-1681, or Duley’s DEQ office, 231-876-4431.
Contact Chris Engle at 732-1111 or cengle@gaylord
A little after midnight on the day of Christmas Eve in Crawford County, at the Beaver Creek Claude Seely #5 HD 1 Gas Injection Well, a valve failure sent a plume of toxic hydrogen sulfide gas across Northern Michigan. The gas traveled from the Breitburn Energy Partners injection well south of Grayling across Michigan and as far as Canada for about 4 hours. Hydrogen Sulfide gas, or sour gas, is deadly. At relatively low concentrations, it is detected by the rotten egg smell of mercaptans occurring within the hydrogen sulfide gas. High levels of Hydrogen Sulfide gas destroy olfactory senses and thus H2S ceases to be detectable when toxicity is high.
When sensors at the Beaver Creek Injection Well Site detected a blown needle valve, the gas plant was shut down automatically, but the sensors should also have shut the injection well boreout, but did not. H2S gase returning from the injection well escaped back up though a ¼ inch hole. Estimates of upwards of 135,000 cubic feet of H2S was released. Winds carried the gas north. Because H2S is heavier than air, it is deadly when undissipated high concentrations drop in a localized area. This can also make well repairs treacherous. Complaints from citizens as far as Petoskey and Cheboygan and emergency notification to the DEQ sent emergency crews to the site. Christmas Eve winds made repairs less dangerous. Crews worked to replace the valve and contacted area hospitals and fire and police. They also contacted 9 & 10 News.
Special emergency, evacuation and contingency plans in areas where Hydrogen Sulfide gas may be encountered must be in place to notify all residences within 1300 feet and to inform first responders. Site specific operating and emergency procedures are part of the Contingency Plan.
Christmas Eve gas leak identified as toxic hydrogen sulfide
CRAWFORD COUNTY — Eighty percent of the gas spewed from
a Beaver Creek Township well early Christmas Eve morning was hydrogen sulfide, a
poisonous byproduct of natural gas production.
The well, used to dispose hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and other sulfur compound mercaptans found in natural gas, stores a mix of about 80 percent H2S and 20 percent other sulfur compounds, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
An estimate by BreitBurn Energy, which operates the Seely No. 5 injection well at a
central production facility, placed the total amount of gas leaked at 135,000
People can smell H2S at trace amounts, and the smell is often compared to rotten eggs. According a DEQ fact sheet on H2S, concentrations of 10 parts per million (ppm) can irritate the eyes; 50-100 ppm can irritate the throat and deaden the sense of smell; 500-700 ppm can cause unconsciousness; and exposure to higher concentrations of 1,000 ppm can kill quickly.
A mixture of 80 percent H2S would be equal to 800,000 ppm.
Rick Henderson, Field Operations Supervisor for Oil, Gas and Minerals for the DEQ, said the leak started around 2:30 a.m. Dec. 24 when a valve failed, sending gas from the well
straight up at a pressure of 600 to 1,000 psi.
Bill Duley, the DEQ field geologist who responded to the incident, said on-site H2S alarms went off and stopped the flow of gas into the well. The problem, he said, was another valve
failed to stop gas from coming out, allowing the leak to go on for more than four hours.
Duley said H2S monitors detect concentrations of between 5 and 10 ppm. Monitors at other wells downwind did not detect H2S, nor did fire department monitors on M-72.
9-1-1 calls reporting the smell of gas were made across Northern Michigan, including a few in Otsego County.
CCE Central Dispatch for Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties received numerous
calls about the smell of gas reported in Boyne City, Boyne Falls and East Jordan and a “strong sewer smell” near the hospital in Petoskey. Office manager Mary Albertson said police were dispatched to those areas throughout the morning to check on the smell.
Henderson said fire departments, 9-1-1 centers and even the Canadian police were alerted to the leaked gas and rotten egg smell.
“It was going north, and we didn’t know how far it would go,” Henderson said. “They could be forewarned for their response.”
A call placed to BreitBurn spokesperson and executive vice president Greg Brown Friday
morning was not returned by press time.
In previous conversations with the Herald Times and Petoskey News-Review, Brown said H2S was present in the gas but that it was likely the mercaptans that people smelled because they do not dissipate as quickly.
“It’s what we’ve all been trained to recognize as a natural gas smell,” Brown said of mercaptans.
Henderson said the failed valve was replaced with another of a different brand and the well was brought back into operation. The damaged valve has been saved for inspection. Both BreitBurn and the DEQ will record the incident, and the DEQ will determine how
far away from the well that H2S concentrations exceeded 10 ppm.
Henderson said it is not yet known if any penalties will be administered.
Duley said BreitBurn is replacing the well heads of both the well where the leak
occurred and another similar well nearby. BreitBurn is equipping those wells
with new sensors that would close both the inlet and well bore in the event of a
valve malfunction and is reworking the way its staff is alerted to such
Contact Chris Engle
at 732-1111 or
Lana Skrtic, May 2006 – This paper documents impacts on human health caused by exposure to hydrogen sulfide.
MichiganReport-HydrogenSulfideReleases - Dana Schindler
SURVEY of ACCIDENTAL and INTENTIONAL HYDROGEN SULFIDE (H2S) RELEASES CAUSING EVACUATIONS and/or INJURY in Manistee and Mason Counties from 1980 to 2002
This is a e-mail response from Brad Wurfel, Communications Director, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to questions about the H2S release. The date of the e-mail is Tue, 3 Jan 2012. Mr. Wurfel’s comments are in blue.
Hello, Ms. Beemon. I’ve worked with DEQ staff to get some answers to your questions below. Thank you for your inquiry.
Here is what we know so far about the situation.
BreitBurn Operating Limited Partnership received calls from the Bear Lake Township and the Fredric Township fire departments reporting a very strong gas odor about 6:30 A.M. Saturday, December 24th.
BreitBurn discovered a leak in the wellhead at their Claude Seeley #5 HD1 gas injection well in the Beaver Creek Oil Field, Crawford County, about nine miles southwest of Grayling. The company had the leak stopped by 7:00 A.M.
The wellhead sensors successfully shutdown the flow line from BreitBurn’s gas plant to the well.
The wind was blowing out of the south- southeast and odor complaints were received as far away as Petoskey and the Mackinaw Straits area. The 911 dispatch offices across Northern Michigan, the Upper Peninsula, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were notified of the release and odor issue.
The gas injected into the well contains as much as 80% H2S and 20% other sulfur compounds (mercaptans). Repairs were made to the well, were successfully tested, and the well went back into operation at 2:00 P.M.
1.Is this a class I Injection Well? Yes.
What is the purpose of this facility/field? It is a disposal facility in a gas and oil field.
2. Is this a methane or H2S leak? H2S.
3. What time did accident happen? The leak happened at 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 24, according to H2S sensors which shut down the flow of gas from the plant. It was first reported around 6:30 a.m. to 911.
Is it recorded? Yes, 911 calls usually are recorded.
4. Who and how was accident reported? See above.
Firefighters? Yes, local firefighters were dispatched.
911? See above.
How many calls were reported? There were more than 100 calls to 911 centers. The DEQ does not have an exact figure.
5. Is the amount of release known or recorded? Breitburn Energy officials are working to finalize it, but the early estimate of the amount released was 135,000 mcf, based on a 5/16” opening and a pressure of 600 psi for four hours.
6. Has the Supervisor of Wells (Hal Fitch) required the permittee to calculate the concentration of H2S at nearest residence or public recreation area (State Land boundary?)? There are air monitors all around the wellhead area. The concentration of H2S downgradient of the well (approximately ¼ mile) and on M-72 did not register anything above 10 ppm on H2S monitors.
7. What was the concentration of H2S at release point? 80% H2S and 20% other sulfur compounds is what was in the pipeline. If you’re asking about the concentration at the release point, I am not aware that we will know that.
8. What was the total H2S released? See question 5.
9. Is this release categorized hazardous? Nuisance? It is a nuisance odor, but we respond to it as a hazardous emergency, given the potential danger of H2S.
10. How many H2S nuisance or other releases from Antrim fields have been documented by DEQ? None.
11. H2S is injected into injection wells in Dundee at 1,000 psi. What was psi (600 psi?) as H2S exited. That information may be in Breitburn’s final report.
12. Is the DEQ aware of any persons reporting injuries or problems with breathing or irritation of eyes or throat? We are not aware of any injuries associated with this situation. There were no injuries reported from workers or first responders on-site.
13. Are there any alarms which trigger DEQ attention to failed H2S equipment? The area has several air monitors. Local fire department also brought portable air monitors. None of the monitors on the site were recording this release because it apparently was going straight into the air. While this was good news in the sense that it allowed the gas to dissipate in the atmosphere before it came back down, it also dispersed the material (and odor complaints) over a much larger area.
14.Are changes planned so there will not be a repeat of accident? The operation is constructed in accordance with state and federal guidelines. It appears that the issue here is a failed valve. Wellhead sensors successfully shut-down the flow of gas from the plant to the well, but did not shut off the wellbore itself. This allowed gas to come back up from the wellbore / formation into the atmosphere. The company has ordered a new sensor to remedy the situation. They have sent the failed valve to a lab for inspection and installed a different brand of valve to fix the problem.
15.Was any notification to TV, news, newspapers or other given? Breitburn contacted local news with their information. Had it been an issue of extended duration or an imminent threat to public health, the move to alert the public through media announcements would have been coordinated with first responders, local and state public health organizations, the operator and the DEQ.
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
517-241-7395 – office
517-230-8006 – cell
What well is it?
API Well # 21-039-51462-00-00
Permit # 51462
Current Permittee BREITBURN OPERATING LIMITED PARTNERSHIP
Well Name & # “SEELY, CLAUDE 5 HD1″
Well Type Gas Injection Well
Well Status Active
Date Status 12/18/2002
Field Name Beaver Creek
Producing Formation DETROIT RIVER Sour Zone
County Name CRAWFORD
Where is the well?
4 miles west of 27 near where 127 and I-75 merge in Crawford County.
This is an aerial view of the area.
View Larger Map
What goes on at the well?
It is a waste gas injection well. It handles the hyrdrogen sulfide gas (H2S) that is separated from the natural gas from other wells and brought to the site (pipeline or trucked), and under high pressure (1,000 psi) injected down into the well. The formation that it is injected into is the Detroit River sour zone. That formation already has H2S gas in it. The concentration of H2S being pumped is 80%(800,000ppm). The depth of the well 5760′ and has a horizontal leg that goes about 3,000′ in a westerly direction.
This is the article that was in the paper.
By Sheri McWhirter and Chris Engle, Northern Michigan Review 2:30 p.m. EST, December 27, 2011
OTSEGO COUNTY — A gas well leak in Crawford County caused a noticeable odor across Northern Michigan early Christmas Eve.
Authorities reported that emergency responders were called to a gas well leak at 6:15 a.m. Saturday in Beaver Creek Township. Responders sealed the leak by 7 a.m. that morning.
Beaver Creek Township is south of Grayling and the well belongs to BreitBurn Energy Partners. Reports as far away as Petoskey and the Mackinac Bridge — approximately 80 miles away — identified a noticeable gas odor throughout the morning.
“There was a valve that failed on the well in question in Beaver Creek Township and there was a release of natural gas,” said BrietBurn spokesman and executive vice president Greg Brown. “We apologize if anybody was alarmed. We don’t believe there is any danger. (It was) just a bad smell.”
Brown estimated upwards of 135,000 cubic feet of gas leaked from the well.
He said the odor — often described as like rotten eggs — is caused by the high level of sulfur compound mercaptans in the gas collected at the well. The hole that allowed the gas to escape was less than a quarter-inch but it’s unknown how long the faulty valve spewed the gas, he said.
Though toxic hydrogen sulfide, or H2S, is present in the gas, Brown said it dissipated so quickly that H2S monitors in the area of the well did not go off. Mercaptans do not dissipate as quickly, he said.
“It’s what we’ve all been trained to recognize as a natural gas smell,” Brown said, noting it is detectable by humans at concentrations of parts per billion.
Pat Robarge, co-owner of Pat & Buds Grocery in Elmira said that she and several customers smelled the gas Saturday morning.
“They just thought their propane tanks were leaking,” Robarge said about her customers. “They were afraid something was going to happen.”
Robarge described the smell as a backed-up sewer and said it bothered her throat.
Ed Goscicki, deputy chief of Frederic Township Fire Department said a couple residents of Bear Lake Township near Kalkaska complained of nausea from the gas. Officials at Mercy Hospital Grayling and Kalkaska Memorial Health Center said no one was treated for gas poisoning at those hospitals.
State drilling and mining officials could not be reached for confirmation over the holiday weekend regarding the well’s safety record and an estimated gas leak size.
DTE spokesman Scott Simons said the utility company received dozens of calls Saturday for possible gas leaks across much of Northern Michigan and responded to each. However, it was believed many of the reported odors were connected to the gas well leak near Grayling.
Dave Lawrence, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gaylord, said a combination of a light south wind and an “inversion” of cold air trapped below low clouds helped spread the gas so far north. The common phenomenon, where the atmosphere is warmer above the clouds, would prevent the gas from dispersing upward.
“That would explain, even in a light wind, why it would transport so far north,” Lawrence said. “Normally it would go up and disperse. When it’s really low to the ground it just moves it along.”
A representative of Safety First Equipment, a Kalkaska company that reportedly helped stop the leak, was not available at press time Tuesday.
- What are the effects of H2S exposure?
This information excerpted from the American National Standards Institute standard: Z37.2-1972 Acceptable Concentrations of Hydrogen Sulfide.
Hydrogen Sulfide is an extremely toxic and irritating gas. Free hydrogen sulfide in the blood reduces its oxygen-carrying capacity, thereby depressing the nervous system. Hydrogen sulfide is oxidized quite rapidly to sulfates in the body, therefore no permanent aftereffects occur in cases of recovery from acute exposures unless oxygen deprivation of the nervous system is prolonged. There is no evidence that repeated exposures to hydrogen sulfide result in accumulative or systemic poisoning. Effects such as eye irritation, respiratory tract irritation, slow pulse rate, lassitude, digestive disturbances, and cold sweats may occur but these symptoms disappear in a relatively short time after removal from the exposure.
Odors become detectable in concentrations as low as .008 parts per million (ppm)
(California studies) but the sense of smell is lost after 2-15 minutes at 100 ppm.
10 ppm – Beginning eye irritation
50-100 ppm – Slight conjunctivitis and respiratory tract irritation after 1 hour exposure
100 ppm -Coughing, eye irritation, loss of sense of smell after 2-15 minutes. Altered respiration, pain in the eyes and drowsiness after 15-30 minutes followed by throat irritation after 1 hour. Several hours exposure results in gradual increase in severity of these symptoms and death may occur within the next 48 hours.
200-300 ppm – Marked conjunctivitis and respiratory tract irritation after 1 hour of exposure
500-700 ppm – Loss of consciousness and possibly death in 30 minutes to 1 hour.
700-1000 ppm – Rapid unconsciousness, cessation of respiration and death.
1000-2000 ppm – Unconsciousness at once, with early cessation of respiration and death in a few minutes. Death may occur even if individual is removed to fresh air at once.
To avoid discomfort, the (8 hour) time weighted average concentration of hydrogen sulfide shall not exceed 10 ppm.
This is from the DEQ website
Are these regulations being followed?
- What is being done to protect citizens in the locating of H2S oil and gas wells?
Permits are reviewed for the probability of encountering H2S gas based on knowledge of the rock formations from other wells.
Wells may be no closer than 300 feet to existing occupied structures or public recreation areas.
Surface facilities (vessels for treating and storage of oil and gas, with associated piping and flares) must be at least 600 feet from existing occupied structures or public recreation areas,
When a well contains 300 ppm or more of hydrogen sulfide, surface facilities or associated flare stacks may not be located in areas which have been zoned residential before
January 8, 1993.
Prior to issuance of the permit to drill and operate, a contingency plan must be prepared by the applicant which provides an organized plan of action for alerting and protecting personnel at an H2S well site and the public. This plan identifies:
Circumstances that activate the plan.
Initial procedures to be followed to account for all staff, restrict access and notify the general public, public authorities and safety agencies.
Procedures for evacuating the public.
Procedures for burning any gas released from the well.
A map showing within 1300 feet of the well the following information:
-All occupied structures, public recreation areas, roads and railroads
-Names, telephone numbers and address for residents, businesses, schools
churches, hospitals, offices and public camping or gathering areas.
Emergency telephone numbers including permittee, drilling contractor, emergency preparedness coordinator, ambulance, hospital, fire department, DNRE, and the Pollution Emergency Alert System (PEAS).
The permittee must under all circumstances notify the local emergency preparedness coordinator, by certified letter not less than 24 hour before commencing to drill an H2S well
- What is being done to protect citizens when producing the H2S well?
Warning signs must be posted at the well and markers placed along the flow line.
Any vents to the atmosphere must be at least 10 feet above the tank top or 20 feet above the ground. Venting may be prohibited if it results in a verified chronic nuisance odor.
When storage vessels release more than 5000 cubic feet of vapors in 24 hours, they must be equipped to convey those gasses to an incinerator, flare or vapor recovery system, the site must be fenced and warning signs posted. Emergency relief valves on these wells must be routed to an incinerator or flare.
Incinerators or flares must be designed and equipped to prevent the release of unburned gas to the atmosphere.
Wells which produce unattended with pressures greater than 100 psig must be equipped with high-low pressure shut-in systems.
Vapor return lines are required on truck loading facilities.
All flow lines to first point of sale are required to be marked to denote the presence of a buried line containing hydrogen sulfide, the owner’s name and emergency number.
Flow lines or facility piping for wells permitted after Sept. 20, 1996 are to be pressure tested every twelve months or visually inspected every three months.
Above ground lines are to be protected from accidental damage.
OGS (Office of Geological Survey) staff inspect production facilities two to four times per year. Facilities known to have a history of problems are inspected more frequently.
- Who regulates air emissions:
The Air Quality Division does not issue permits for wells, but may permit some of the equipment associated with wells. Air Quality regulations prohibit release of harmful quantities of H2S in any instance. All sweetening facilities must be permitted by the Air Quality Division. A “sweetening facility” treats sour gas to remove sulfur compounds from the gas. After the company has been issued a permit, and the plant has been constructed, Air Quality District staff are involved in inspecting the plant to determine compliance with its air use permit. District staff also respond to citizen complains regarding gas sweetening plants
The DEQ is expected to regulate the tens of thousands of fracked wells coming to the state.