Gas Leak Sensed 80 Miles Away

Thursday, December 29, 2011 @ 03:12 PM gHale

A failed valve was the culprit in a gas well leak in Crawford County, MI, that caused a noticeable odor across Northern Michigan early Christmas Eve.

Emergency responders came to a gas well leak at 6:15 a.m. Saturday in Beaver Creek Township. Responders sealed the leak by 7 a.m.

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Beaver Creek Township is south of Grayling and the well belongs to BreitBurn Energy Partners. Reports as far away as Petoskey and the Mackinac Bridge — approximately 80 miles away — identified a noticeable gas odor throughout the morning.

“There was a valve that failed on the well in question in Beaver Creek Township and there was a release of natural gas,” said BrietBurn spokesman and executive vice president Greg Brown. “We don’t believe there is any danger. (It was) just a bad smell.”

Brown estimated over 135,000 cubic feet of gas leaked from the well.

He said the odor — often described as like rotten eggs — came from the high level of sulfur compound mercaptans in the gas collected at the well. The hole that allowed the gas to escape was less than a quarter-inch but officials do not know how long the faulty valve spewed the gas, he said.

Though toxic hydrogen sulfide, or H2S, is present in the gas, Brown said it dissipated so quickly that H2S monitors in the area of the well did not go off. Mercaptans do not dissipate as quickly, he said.

“It’s what we’ve all been trained to recognize as a natural gas smell,” Brown said, noting it is detectable by humans at concentrations of parts per billion.

DTE Energy spokesman Scott Simons said the utility received dozens of calls Saturday for possible gas leaks across much of Northern Michigan and responded to each. However, most of the reported odors connected to the gas well leak near Grayling.

Dave Lawrence, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gaylord, said a combination of a light south wind and an “inversion” of cold air trapped below low clouds helped spread the gas so far north. The common phenomenon, where the atmosphere is warmer above the clouds, would prevent the gas from dispersing upward.

“That would explain, even in a light wind, why it would transport so far north,” Lawrence said. “Normally it would go up and disperse. When it’s really low to the ground it just moves it along.”

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