Parts of the Overthrust Belt of western Wyoming and adjoining areas in Utah and Idaho contain geologic formations with significant accumulations of oil and natural gas. Some of these formations, though, yield gas that is contaminated with toxic hydrogen sulfide. As a consequence, the development of these so-called sour-gas reservoirs requires special safety procedures and technologies in order to prevent accidental releases of gas to the atmosphere that could cause adverse occupational and public health effects. To improve the analysis and assessment of wells and collection pipelines completed on lands leased from the Federal Government, the Minerals Management Service, Onshore Operations, now part of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), asked Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to conduct a study to test methods to the analysis of the potential risks associated with the development of sour-gas resources located near Evanston, Wyoming. The process of assessing the health risks of a potential sour-gas release involves estimation of the emission rate of hydrogen sulfide, specification of how the gas is released (e.g., vertically into the atmosphere or horizontally), prediction of downwind concentrations of the gas, analysis of the potential health effects, and finally, review of safety methods required to minimize the potential health risks. The first part of the report includes an analysis of data on the health effects of hydrogen sulfide to determine the nature of its dose-response relationship. Following that review is a study of the different methods of quantifying the emission rate of gas from wells and pipelines. Data on the frequency of accidental releases from those facilities are also analyzed. To assess the health risks of an accidental release from a well under BLM supervision located near Evanston, we collected meteorological data for 1 yr from four stations in that area. Our analysis of a worst-case release scenario (i.e., a gas plume that is near the surface) using those data indicates that the greatest risks of incurring an acute health effect (e.g., unconsciousness, respiratory arrest, pulmonary edema, or death) are located in the northwest sector downwind from the well because of the occurrence of stable atmospheric conditions along with slow winds from the southeast. The risks of an acute health effect in that northwest sector over the 20-yr operation of the well were on the order of 10 -4 to 10 -5 -- similar to the risk of accidental death caused by a natural disaster over the same period.
Layton, D. W.; Cederwall, R. T.; Ricker, Y. E.; Shinn, J. H.; and O'Banion, K. D., "Accidental Releases of Sour Gas From Wells and Collection Pipelines in the Overthrust Belt: Calculating and Assessing Potential Health and Environmental Risks" (1983). All U.S. Government Documents (Utah Regional Depository). Paper 86.