Safety measures mean
life or death in oilfield
By Jim Misunas
Rob Long encountered the threat of hydrogen sulfide gas and lived to tell about it.
The production superintendent for F.G. Holl Company, LLC, in Ellinwood knows first hand the risk of hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S) in oilfield operations. It was nearly 30 years ago when Long survived a near-fatal incident in Barton County.
“It was eight years ago that I went down when the wind blew the gas from a well and caught me,” he said. “I was fortunate that some fellow employees assisted me to clear air and safety.”
Two Barton County men died of asphyxiation Monday from the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas, a by-product from the production of oil and natural gas. Hydrogen sulfide causes respiratory paralysis and is highly toxic.
R.G. Holl’s first safety measure is requiring every employee to wear gas monitors. Confined areas require air safety equipment.
“There is risk in anything you do. But encountering H2S is much more dangerous than anything we see,” Long said. “It is high risk. All it takes it one instance in the wrong place. It’s a wakeup call that reminds us all what can happen.”
R.G. Holl’s company policy requires employees to employ air safety equipment in confined spaces. Safety would be provided by a air respirator with a full facepiece, helmet or hood or a self-contained breathing apparatus with a full facepiece.
“Anytime you enter a confined place, there is a higher risk of H2S gas being present,” Long said. “Anytime we are around a well, we wear gas monitors that detect the gas. It is our company policy to not enter any confined area without oxygen and air tanks.”
Long supervises 14 employees in central Kansas involved in the exploration and drilling for oil and gas. Once unsafe conditions are detected, employees are trained to move to a safer environment.
Long said hydrogen sulfide has is common in oil formations in the Arbuckle Formation in Kansas.
Required oilfield apparel for R.G. Holl’s employees features steel-toed shoes, a hard hat and a portable gas monitor.
“As a producer and operator, we are obligated to conduct annual safety procedures,” Long said. “Our employees are well aware of our safety measures.”
On site, the company uses Draeger short-term detector tubes, which have proven to be effective measuring toxic gases and vapors. A P1 rating is a safe measure while a P2 rating indicates a potentially risky environment. Oilfields where hydrogen sulfide has been detected are often indicated with safety signage.
BARTON COUNTY — Two Barton County residents died Monday night in an oilfield accident at a rural saltwater disposal lease.
Kebby R. Myers, 30, of Claflin and Curtis L. Hoffman, 50, of Great Bend, were pronounced deceased at the scene by Deputy County Corner Doctor Dan Witt. They were victims of asphyxiation from the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas, a by-product from the production of oil and natural gas. hydrogen sulfide, causes respiratory paralysis and is highly toxic.
The accident scene was discovered by Myers wife, April.
Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellinder said the investigation indicated that Hoffman had been working on a leaking valve that had caused an underground cellar-type structure to flood at the saltwater disposal lease.
When the two did not arrive home as expected, family members began looking for them. It was at this point both of their vehicles were discovered outside of the disposal well. The call was initially reported as a possible drowning, it was later determined to be an oilfield related accident.
Bellindir said Hoffman apparently asked Myers to bring him some parts. Bellindir said Hoffman was apparently overcome by the hydrogen sulfide gas and Myers was overcome by the poisonous gas.
Bellindir said emergency personnel were unable to enter the structure due to high levels of hydrogen sulfide gas inside. Because of the extremely dangerous nature of the scene, Haz-Mat Inc. was called to bring specialized equipment. Two oilfield tank trucks were also used to remove the water that was flooding into the structure.
The body of one victim was immediately discovered near the steps in the flooded room. It was determined by EMS personnel there was no chance of resuscitation.
“What makes the incident particularly tragic is Hoffman and Myers were father and son-in-law,” said Bellendir.
Barton County sheriff’s deputies, Claflin fire department and emergency medical services responded at 7:54 p.m. Monday to the location three miles north, one mile east and about another quarter-mile north of Claflin on 140 Road. The location was a rural saltwater disposal lease.
Hydrogen sulfide is best known for its infamous stench. The odor of rotting eggs is caused by hydrogen sulfide gas produced through decomposition. It’s found within a number of different industries but is especially hazardous in sewers and manure pits, where it can accumulate and reach very high levels.
Concentrations under 50 parts per million (ppm) are irritating and can cause corneal inflammation with sustained exposure. Concentrations above 150 ppm impair the victim’s sense of scent and are thus very dangerous. Concentrations over 500 ppm can cause death within minutes. H2S levels are typically tested with a simple chemical test that uses methylene blue among other reagents.
The incident is under investigation by the Sheriff’s Office.