From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 8, Number 23 - August 28, 2008
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EMS Adopts New Rules For Frac Fluids

by Derek Farr

Sublette County Emergency Medical Services is adopting new guidelines concerning gas-field workers exposed to potentially harmful drilling fluids. The EMS action occurred during the Rural Health Care Board meeting Wednesday, Aug. 20.

The new rules clarify emergency procedures concerning gas-field workers exposed to drilling liquids.

“Typically...everybody’s been exposed at some point in their day-to-day operation with a chemical,” Sublette County EMS Supervisor Will Gay said of gas-field workers.

“Where we get it bad is if it’s trauma; we don’t always strip (the patient’s) clothes before we load them in the ambulance.”

The new rules dictate all workers who smell like chemicals will have their clothes removed before being transported by an ambulance. In addition, any worker who smells like chemicals in the emergency room will have his/her clothes removed and be decontaminated.

Sublette EMS’ new rules are a reaction to an incident in Durango, Colo., where a nurse was exposed to drill fluids on an injured gas-field worker that sent her to the intensive care unit and almost took her life.

Prior to the incident, paramedics’ primary concernwas rushing an injured gasfield worker to the hospital as fast as possible. “This has been the eye-opener,” Gay said. “They still need to get there fast, but we need to be worrying if we are going to be exposed to this chemical for the hour to hour and a-half that we have him in the back of our ambulance.”

To mitigate those worries, paramedics will now take two or three minutes to cut off the worker’s clothes.

The incident in Durango has also germinated new concerns surrounding the accuracy of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). By law the sheets accompany hazardous materials during transport and at the work site. The sheets list the chemical contents of hazardous materials but some argue proprietary chemicals are being exempted from the MSDSs.

In Durango, after the nurse was exposed to the chemicals, her doctors called the drilling company, Weatherford, with questions about the drilling fluid’s contents. Even though they had the five-page MSDS, some of the chemicals were not explicitly itemized. Instead a trade name was used to describe the chemicals.

When the nurses doctors asked for a list of the trade name’s specific chemicals, Weatherford refused, saying it was proprietary information.

It is the notion of mystery chemicals on MSDSs that has Gay concerned. “Yes they are filling out MSDSs, and the MSDSs are available to us, but (emergency workers) don’t believe the MSDSs contain every single chemical that’s in the frac’ fluid,” Gay said.

He added that during his career, whether he reported to a person who was hurt or sick, Gay has never been handed a MSDS.

“I’m sure they’re there,” he said. “I just don’t know that anybody thinks about grabbing it and handing it out...It’s never crossed my mind to say, ‘By the way, go grab your folder.’”

Even with those sheets, ambiguous trade names aren’t helpful in an emergency but according to Bob Hanson, Sublette County Emergency Management coordinator, MSDSs list every chemical including proprietary chemicals.

He said fears of proprietary information are over exaggerated.

“If (emergency workers) pull into a location, the tanks are all labeled with what’s in them and they have the three triangles that have the flammability and the health issues,” he said. “We all carry what we call an ERG, an Emergency Response Guide...All they have to do is pull into the location, they look up the number, it’s a four-digit number, and they determine what they’re dealing with.”

Hanson said in Sublette County, he doesn’t have a problem with energy companies being secretive about their drilling fluids’ contents.

He said, “I’ve either got that information or I can get that information.”

In fact, anybody can.

Oil and gas companies are required to file a Tier 2 report to the Local Emergency Planning Committee. Those reports tell Hanson what chemicals are in the county and they are filed in his office.

While those files cannot be copied without permission from the Department of Homeland Security, the reports are open for public review.

Regardless of the concerns, Hanson is confident Sublette County does not have a problem.

“I’ve got a good working relationship with all the (oil and gas) companies,” he said. “If I call and ask them ‘what is this particular stuff and what’s the risk to it’ they’ll give it to me.”

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