Dover Holds Town Hall On Hydrogen Sulfide Leaks

Tuesday, December 19th 2017, 6:44 pm
By: News 9

The people in this town of less than 500 residents understand as well as anyone in Oklahoma the many benefits that come with a thriving oil and gas industry.

But the people of Dover also realize there can be a downside. And, in their case, it has nothing to do with earthquakes, but rather with something foul-smelling in the air.

"We had no idea what this was," said Karen Smillie, in a room full of her neighbors and friends.

Smillie and about two dozen other locals showed up at the Dover town hall Monday night for a meeting where many of them, for the first time in public, voiced their concerns with the odor and its cause.

"It was so strong that I was looking everywhere," said Annette Gonzales, who works at the Dover post office, "I thought something had died or something like that."

Nothing has died, but according to documents obtained from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which has investigated several complaints related to the powerful smell, newly drilled wells on the edge of town produced plumes of hydrogen sulfide gas last month, prompting the complaints.

At the meeting Monday night, it was clear that most everyone who lives in Dover has smelled the noxious gas, although some are confused by the response they've had from state regulators.

"Somebody told me Friday that I'm probably crazy for [saying I'm] smelling that stuff," a man named Brian told the Corporation Commission's Kingfisher District Manager, "I'm telling ya [sic], I'm 200 yards from that well site, and it's there!"

District Manager Brad Ice was one of three Corporation Commission officials to attend Monday night's meeting.

"I'm not saying you guys aren't smelling it," Ice responded. "All I'm saying is, every time we come up here, we can't [smell it], because it's not doing it all the time."

The release of Hydrogen Sulfide gas, which can be lethal in high enough concentrations, is a known risk at some well sites, and oil and gas companies and their workers are trained in how to respond when H2S is detected.

Educating the general public about the gas, however, has not been considered necessary, since most wells are far enough away from homes that the gas dissipates before it can affect an unsuspecting resident.

That is not the case in Dover.

"As everybody knows," Karen Smillie explained to the gathered crowd, "I live about 300 feet north of the Chaparral well."

The lure of Oklahoma's STACK play in northwest Oklahoma -- and the SCOOP in south central Oklahoma -- is putting wells, increasingly, in populated areas -- and. in Smillie's case, right across the street.

Last month, Smillie had a friend take her to the hospital after an incident that, she believes, resulted from H2S gas pooling in the first floor of her home.

"And I come downstairs and it hit me," Smillie told OCC officials, "and I started coughing, and my eyes were burning, my throat was burning."

State regulators do not dispute the claims Smillie and others in Dover have made; they have responded to their complaints and confirm the detection of potentially unsafe levels of hydrogen sulfide gas at the wellheads of the Chaparral well and a nearby well operated by Gastar Exploration.

"We're interested in taking action on these wells that you're talking about," said Jim Palmer, an OCC spokesman "and have, in most cases, already."

Corporation Commission officials assured the residents that both operators have installed the equipment necessary, not only to alert authorities of any significant release of hydrogen sulfide gas, but to ensure that doesn't happen in the first place.

Despite such assurances, many at the meeting say they are still regularly detecting the gas's tell-tale rotten egg odor.

Moreover, several of those in attendance felt their concerns fell on deaf ears.

"I wanted some answers, some information," said Annette Gonzales, "and I feel like we got nothing."

Corporation Commission officials told the group that their investigation is still open, and that they are trying to determine, more precisely, the source of the gas -- whether it is naturally occurring or somehow a product of the oil and gas activity at the location.

They say, depending on what their research shows, they may push for new rules that would help to avert such a situation in the future.