Oil and gas safeguards needed

Oil and gas safeguards needed I am the former director of Emergency Medical Services for the Yukon. I am quite concerned with the short space of time for public response to the Yukon Party government's proposal to perform oil and gas exploration in t

Oil and gas safeguards needed

0To maintain valid leases, the companies that are involved will, under the guidelines of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, drill test wells. There are risks of drilling the Yukon Party government has not prepared its emergency first responders for, or for that matter, the general public.

Notwithstanding the extensive surface scarring of seismic lines, drill pads and the attendant road networks to date, one very serious issue has failed to make the public realm of discussion. It is the serious effects of a gas-drilling byproduct, which is hydrogen sulphide (H2S) gas. This gas can be present in most types of gas-well drilling, and to a lesser extent, in oil drilling.

H2S is a “rotten egg” smelling gas that is heavier than air and will kill people, other mammals and birds, in a matter of seconds. Normally, the victim will notice the smell during the first breath but will not notice the smell on the second, as the gas has already destroyed the olfactory nerves. The victim, thinking that the air has cleared, then takes the third breath, which will be fatal.

In smaller doses, this gas can be particularly harmful to those with a weakened respiratory system, such as the elderly or those suffering from other chronic diseases. Low-dose exposure symptoms of H2S are not unlike what is encountered by carbon monoxide poisoning. With the high concentration of seniors in the Marsh Lake area and an extensive identified lease area upwind, this is a particularly troubling thought.

Anyone who works in the gas industry is mandated by law to be certified, at a minimum, with an eight-hour awareness course. Employers are mandated to have alarms, wind direction “socks” and emergency breathing devices at hand in case of an alarm. These alarms can be triggered at as low as five to 15 parts per million.

The general public has no such protection, awareness or training. With the exploration permits issued, much like other exploration that is carried out in the Yukon, a company can place a gas exploration pad in uncomfortably close proximity to people.

In reviewing the maps of the potential leases, I am concerned that although the City of Whitehorse fire department has had training about entering into harmful atmospheres, the dedicated and hardworking volunteer fire and emergency medical services personnel of Carcross, Tagish, Carmacks and Marsh Lake, the full-time Whitehorse-based EMS crews and the RCMP have not been provided with the necessary training or equipment to ensure that while responding to an emergency they themselves do not become victims of H2S exposure. There has been, to date, no H2S-specific training provided.

It has been abundantly clear to me, particularly in light of the dismissive comments from the Yukon Party government and its senior staff, surrounding the recent and fully preventable tragedy – the carbon-monoxide poisoning event – that there are serious and systemic gaps in the capability of this administration to react to and safely mitigate a release of H2S on an unsuspecting population.

I would urge my fellow citizens to both educate yourselves on the harmful effects of H2S and press our elected officials and senior government staff for the provision of adequate public safeguards that are, at this time, not in place.

Nick Tilgner


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