Sul­phide alert zone ex­pands

The Delhi News-Record - - NEWS - MONTE SONNENBERG MSon­nen­berg@postmedia.com

The toxic gas sit­u­a­tion in Sil­ver Hill could get worse be­fore it gets bet­ter.

On Thurs­day, county of­fi­cials opened lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with an ad­di­tional 16 house­holds in the area of North Wals­ing­ham Road 10 in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a nat­u­ral gas cap­ping op­er­a­tion this week.

Sev­eral of the house­holds in the ex­panded zone are lo­cated on the North Wals­ing­ham East Quar­ter Line Road.

The house­holds at is­sue are within 800 me­tres of two old gas wells that are emit­ting un­usu­ally high read­ings of hy­dro­gen sul­phide gas.

In a news re­lease, Nor­folk County says hy­dro­gen sul­phide con­cen­tra­tions in the neigh­bour­hood could rise as a re­sult of the cap­ping op­er­a­tion. The goal is to plug the well and cap it and hope this re­duces hy­dro­gen sul­phide read­ings to ac­cept­able lev­els.

“Pub­lic safety is our top pri­or­ity,” Mayor Char­lie Luke said in the re­lease. “Please fol­low the warn­ings from your emer­gency of­fi­cials. Stay away from the area.”

Hy­dro­gen sul­phide gas is a byprod­uct of nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion. Hy­dro­gen sul­phide is toxic, cor­ro­sive, com­bustible and smells like rot­ten eggs.

On Aug. 18, sev­eral homes on North Wals­ing­ham Road 10 were evac­u­ated due to hy­dro­gen sul­phide read­ings ex­ceed­ing the rec­om­mended safety limit. The num­ber of evac­u­ated house­holds has since risen to six.

An 800-me­tre sec­tion of North Wals­ing­ham Road 10 has been bar­ri­caded and is off-lim­its to ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic. Bar­ri­cades have also been posted at the road’s en­trance at Forestry Farm Road and the North Wals­ing­ham East Quar­ter Line. These bar­ri­cades re­strict ve­hi­cles to lo­cal traf­fic only.

The cap­ping op­er­a­tion in­volves an aban­doned gas well on the prop­erty of Ian and Kim Grant. The Grants re­cently brought the prob­lem to the at­ten­tion of the Haldimand-Nor­folk Health Unit after fumes dis­coloured me­tal ob­jects on their prop­erty.

At a spe­cial meet­ing of Nor­folk coun­cil last week, Dr. Mal­colm Lock – Haldimand and Nor­folk’s act­ing med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health – said four of six house­holds un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders have com­plied.

Pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tion al­lows med­i­cal of­fi­cers of health to levy fines up to $5,000 a day for in­di­vid­u­als who disobey evac­u­a­tion or­ders.

How­ever, Lock said last week he won’t ex­er­cise this power due to fluc­tu­at­ing lev­els of hy­dro­gen sul­phide and the dif­fi­culty in prov­ing a per­sis­tent hazard from a le­gal stand­point.

A house­holder in the evac­u­a­tion zone called Postmedia last week to protest the or­der. The caller asked not to be iden­ti­fied over fears of reper­cus­sions.

The caller said gas fumes have been a fact of life in the af­fected zone for years and that there have been no no­tice­able im­pacts on health.

“To block us out is just ridicu­lous,” the caller said. “It should be up to the home­own­ers. What if there is loot­ing? What if there’s a fire?

“We have not smelled any­thing here in quite a while. Once in a while you get a whiff, but that’s about it.

“We want ac­cess to our homes. We want the bar­ri­ers re­moved. Can they not just do that for us? I’m just so frus­trated. Now we can’t even drive down the road. It’s aw­ful.”

The caller’s fam­ily has a long his­tory in the af­fected area. The caller said prob­lems arose sev­eral years ago when an old nat­u­ral gas well be­side Big Creek was capped.

Prior to the re­pair, the odour near the well was so per­va­sive that lo­cal res­i­dents re­ferred to the wa­ter­way as “Stinky Creek.”

This cap­ping op­er­a­tion cou­pled with el­e­vated read­ings of hy­dro­gen sul­phide from gas wells to the east has prompted spec­u­la­tion that cap­ping the well be­side Big Creek caused the un­der­ly­ing gas de­posit to seek pres­sure-re­lease points in nearby lo­ca­tions.

If so, many more wells in the area may have to be capped be­fore hy­dro­gen sul­phide read­ings drop to sta­ble, safe lev­els.

Nor­folk County has acted be­cause – un­der pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tion – mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are re­spon­si­ble for pub­lic health and safety. Be­cause of these re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and the li­a­bil­ity that at­tends them, the chances of the county eas­ing up on ac­cess are slim.

“There ex­ists the pos­si­bil­ity that emis­sions could sud­denly in­crease or de­crease with­out warn­ing, re­sult­ing in vari­able emis­sions and con­cen­tra­tions,” se­nior staff wrote in a report to Nor­folk coun­cil.

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