At least five American oil and gas workers have died from hydrogen sulfide poisoning since the beginning of 2013, according to a recent report from Energy Wire. Hydrogen sulfide, also known as “sour gas,” can quickly prove fatal, sometimes even in just a couple of breaths. It is a colorless gas that smells of rotten eggs, but in high concentrations or with prolonged exposure, the scent quickly disappears.
According to Energy Wire, it appears that hydrogen sulfide emissions may be on the rise in Texas, New Mexico and Kansas, although record keeping varies from state-to-state, making it difficult to decisively track patterns.
In Montana, oil and gas expert Tom Wilson tells the Bismarck Tribune that sour gas is prevalent. Hydrogen sulfide can cause loss of consciousness at just 500 parts per million and nearly instant death at 1,000 parts per million. Wilson says he has measured sour gas with concentrations at 70,000 parts per million.
One of the most deadly accidents in the history of the oil and gas industry happened in Denver City, Texas, in 1975, when a local well-developed a leak. Thanks to cold and windless conditions, the hydrogen sulfide collected near the ground, poisoning nine people nearby. Jack Watkins was one of the volunteer firefighters who helped recover the bodies of the victims.
“That stuff can get you so fast, you don’t realize you’re in it till it’s too late,” he tells Energy Wire. “You could tell they’d been fighting this gas — they had wash cloths over their mouths.”
Because hydrogen sulfide poisoning can occur at such low concentrations, leaving victims little to no time to react, proper safety training is imperative to prevent costly accidents and loss of life. Check out Mastery’s courses covering hydrogen sulfide safety.
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