Gas well leaking hydrogen sulphide northwest of Port Burwell

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Bayham on Thursday night, Feb. 13, stated that a historic gas well northwest of Port Burwell was leaking potentially dangerous hydrogen sulphide gas, and a state of emergency has been declared as a precaution.

The gas was heavier than air and could be fatal close to the source.

Public works employees and firefighters went door to door in Port Burwell and Vienna Thursday night to inform the public about the situation.

The well leak was found after several complaints of a “rotten egg” smell in the Port Burwell and Vienna area over the last several days, Fire Chief Randy White said.

The well is in an area south of Orchard Line, which has been closed to traffic. The well, on private property, will be fenced off.

Bayham has warned everyone to stay away from the immediate area, but believed the leaking gas posed no immediate danger to the general public, he said. The only nearby residence belonged to the property owner, who had been cooperating with authorities as they dealt with the leak.

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Elgin St. Thomas Public Health, Ontario Provincial Police and the Office of the Fire Marshall and Emergency Management are in the early stages of planning a response to the situation.

Chief White said a control group of representatives of the above agencies were to meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 14 to discuss next steps and to make sure resources are in place.

The leak was discovered when MNR investigators were called in Thursday morning, after municipal officials couldn’t find the source of the rotten eggs smell.

The investigators tracked the stench to an old gas well that had been drilled in 1917, and later plugged.

Chief White said capping methods were primitive back then, in this case involving the insertion of a wooden plug and then burying the well head.

Water heavily sulphated by decomposing organic manner underground was bubbling up out of the well around the concrete plug and, on contact with air, releasing the hydrogen sulphide gas.

The fact that the gas could be smelled was actually a good sign, he said. In heavier concentrations, the odour escaped human detection.

The gas concentration away from the well wasn’t high enough to even register on detectors used by Bayham volunteer firefighters, he noted.

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources had a special program to re-seal such wells, he said, but “It is going to be a while.”

A similar well re-capped last summer took two months, “And it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” because an old well had to be opened up before it could be sealed anew.

Monitoring equipment would be brought in to keep an eye on the situation, and warn of any changes.

More information as it becomes available.

Read more in the Feb. 19 print edition or the online e-edition.

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