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Residents cry foul over bad gas smell

Posted 5/17/16 (Tue)

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

The smell of leaking H2S from oil wells in the Keene area has residents concerned for their safety. And no amount of complaining to the North Dakota Department of Health by the impacted residents of McKenzie County seems to be helping.  
“Ask any of my neighbors,” said Kathy Skarda, one Keene landowner and McKenzie County Commissioner. “They are all surrounded by oil wells, pads, and flares. A couple of them even begged the Legislature to increase the amount of space between homes and oil pads, and nothing happened.”
Skarda says she and many of her neighbors have called and complained multiple times to the North Dakota State Department of Health, to no avail. She’s shared a list of concerns to them and she says she and others are tired of not being heard or listened to.
“The State Department has said there’s never been enough complaints to do anything,” explained Skarda, after one of her recent phone calls to the North Dakota State Health Department. “So now it’s like we have to start all over again because nothing has been documented.”
According to Karolin Jappe, McKenzie County Emergency manager, she called the North Dakota State Department of Health a couple months ago and they came out.
“Several people had called me to complain about the smell and their concerns that there were leaks in the oil wells,” explained Jappe. “When I went out to the Keene area to speak with these concerned residents, I had a major headache within a half-hour. The smell was so strong. I knew it was H2S.”
Jappe says when the State Department of Health came out, they had brought a $100,000 infrared camera with them. With the camera, a person can see the fumes leaking  out of the well, even during the day - something the naked eye couldn’t see on its own.
“From there, I tried to work with the oil companies,” Jappe stated. “I told them, ‘there’s a major leak in one of your tanks.’ Their reply was that they were trying their best to take care of it. Well, the last round happened this past weekend. I got a hold of the Department of Health again and they came out. There was definitely H2S leaking again.”
And Jappe isn’t the only one who complained of a headache caused from the leaking gas.
“Many people complain of headaches out here,” says Skarda. “And not just headaches. The gases have caused people heart problems, breathing and lung problems, and problems with their eyes. Gary, my husband, and his cousins who have worked out in the compressors, are out there daily and have heart problems. One of my neighbors says that he’s been down to his cow barns and the gas has just about knocked him down because it just sits there.”
Once the Health Department comes out, Jappe attempts to reach out to the oil companies to work with them. But the majority of residents want to see more happen. They want to be heard.
The problem, says Skarda, with finding the leaks is that the Department of Health will come out and then it seems there is a temporary fix and everything goes back to what they’ve all been complaining about, including the loud decibal of the oil flares, within very close range to people’s homes.
“The flares are about two miles from my house and I can literally be sitting out on my porch and it sounds like a jet roaring,” describes Skarda. “And it seems like it gets three times louder in the evenings and through the night. It’s insane.”
Jappe says there is a little bit of hope, however. Toward the end of May, several Department of Health employees will be coming to Keene to hold a community meeting.
“The community needs to understand what’s going on out here, what to look for, what’s important to recognize, and what’s not,” states Jappe. “The state is working with me and they’ve always come when I’ve called, so I think this is a step in the right direction.”