Producing Oil Well Near Sunshine Elementary School Has No Safety Plan For Toxic Gas
500 feet, chain link fence, a canal and a patch of trees are all that separate Sunshine Elementary School from the active producing oil well. The well and the school have live together since 1985 without any major incident but the well doesn’t have a safety plan for toxic hydrogen sulfide gas.
This well pumps out about 20,000 barrels of oil per year according to records. Since the 1970′s, the Lehigh Park oil field has produced more than 6 million barrels of oil, out of its 15 dug wells in Lehigh Acres.
At the end of Terry Avenue North you can see the Consolidated-Tomoka Land Co. (Exxon) Well No. 26-2 and its storage tanks. To the right, over the tops of trees, the school’s second story building is very visible. History of the Lehigh Acres Park Field.
Despite the presence of a producing well so close to the school, neither the Lee County School District nor the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have specific hazardous materials safety plans for the site.
Since the school, which has nearly 1,200 students and was built in 1985, there have been eight reported infractions at the site, all minor, according to DEP documents.
The Lee County School District does not have a school-specific plan for the release of any hazardous chemicals from this oil site. Lee County Spokeswoman said, School staff members have advised that there are no school-specific hazardous materials safety plans for Sunshine Elementary School.
The school district does receive hazardous-material training from a third-party vendor, but the material does not cover drilling-related chemical releases.
The DEP, which is responsible for permitting drilling operations in the state, maintains a spill prevention plan for the Lehigh Park oil field, but that does not include a contingency plan for hydrogen sulfide gas.
Hydrogen sulfide has killed workers on oilfields around the country and has also been found in wells in Southwest Florida, according to DEP documents.
Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable, toxic gas known for its rotten-egg smell at low concentrations. It occurs naturally in crude oil, natural gas and hot springs, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The gas is heavier than air and can be quickly lethal in enclosed spaces. The upper threshold for human inhalation over short periods is 15 parts per million and lethal at 100 parts per million, according to OSHA.
According to OSHA statistics, between 2001 and 2010, 60 people died from hydrogen sulfide inhalation.
“The Lehigh Park field has never had an issue with hydrogen sulfide because the oil it produces is low sulfur, or ‘sweet, crude’”, according to DEP records.
Most drilling applications in Florida prior to 1997 did not include a hydrogen sulfide plan. Well No. 26-2 was drilled in 1976. At that time the closest resident at that time was more than a mile away, according to DEP documents.
At the time hydrogen sulfide safety plans were rare, but it changed in the 1990’s.
Around the 1990’s, significant amounts of hydrogen sulfide were detected in the Bear Island and Raccoon Point fields. It’s has become standard practice for prospective drillers to include a hydrogen sulfide safety plan with their applications since the 1990’s.
Even the controversial oil wells near Golden Gate Estates, have included hydrogen sulfide safety plans, according to DEP documents.
DEP states, since the Lehigh Park field has never produced significant amounts of hydrogen sulfide wells there is no need to require a plan.