Vectren drilling operations catch county residents by surprise [Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.]

Oct. 24–The dull roar and bright lights of a drilling rig erected on the southeast side of Bloomington have left neighbors with concerns about safety and Monroe County officials scratching their heads.

Cindy Stone has lived on South Knightridge Road off Ind. 446 for 20 years. She and her partner recently spent around $20,000 on a pottery studio so Stone could throw the windows open, plunge her hands into some clay and create while enjoying her natural surroundings on the outskirts of Bloomington. Now, the sudden appearance of Pioneer Oil Field Services and a stories-tall drill has her worried about potentially deadly hydrogen sulfide gas and her quality of life.

“It’s not how I imagined my retirement. I was just looking forward to quiet days of being one with the clay,” Stone said. “Now, I’m fearful. Indiana is not always a leader in protecting land, air and water.”

Natalie Hedde, a spokeswoman for Vectren, said the drill located on a nearby private farm is digging an observation well that will allow the Evansville-based natural gas company to monitor its underground storage facilities. She said the primary drilling activities, which began over the weekend, should be complete by the end of the week. Some minor clean-up work may stretch into November.

In 2016, the U.S. Congress enacted the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipeline and Enhancing Safety Act after the largest greenhouse gas leak in U.S. history plagued a California neighborhood from October 2015 to February 2016. Thousands of people were afflicted with nausea, nosebleeds and other ailments as a result of the natural gas leak. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, residents were forced to leave their homes and live for months in temporary housing. That incident led to new federal storage rules established with a focus on tighter operations, maintenance, management, emergency response, public awareness and more.

Vectren had one year to come up with a plan for its storage facilities across the state. The well that’s currently being dug in the middle of a cornfield on the southeast side of Bloomington is part of Vectren’s $14 million integrity management project. Crews are installing equipment that will measure the pressure and temperature of an existing storage well to make sure the company’s reserves are stable and free of any leaks.

Vectren’s northern division has four gas reserve facilities serving more than 570,000 natural gas consumers across 48 Indiana counties. Two of the north division’s facilities are in Monroe County, in Hindustan and Unionville.

Chase Kelley, vice president of marketing and communications for Vectren, said those above-ground facilities on the northeastern side of Bloomington are access points. Vectren uses those facilities to inject and withdraw gas from underground wells throughout the county where natural gas is stored in aquifers or other caverns for use when demand is high.

“Going into the winter heating season, we like to have 70 to 80 percent of our gas locked up,” Kelley said. “It provides some peace of mind for customers, when it comes to price.”

Nearby residents may have to search elsewhere for peace of mind. Kelley said crews will be drilling 24/7, meaning the noise and light associated with operations will be constant until workers finish what they came here to do.

“We apologize for that,” Kelley said. “I can imagine that’s not the most welcome noise, especially if you’re trying to sleep.”

Stone still has questions, but she said the very least Vectren could’ve done was let neighbors know what was happening.

“This is lit up so much at night I can read a book out here,” Stone said. “This is more suited for rural areas, not fairly urban neighborhoods.”

Stone said she’s not being “NIMBY,” an abbreviation of the phrase “not in my backyard.” She said she’s more concerned that she was left on her own to figure out a sign that indicated the potential presence of hydrogen sulfide gas, which can be deadly. She’d received no letter, no email, no phone call or communication of any kind to let her know about the project. She had no idea how long she’d have to wait before she could enjoy peace on her porch again, if ever.

Kelley and Hedde both emphasized there is no hydrogen sulfide gas on site. The sign at the site’s entrance is standard for drilling operations, Kelley said, adding monitors and equipment on site can help capture the potential release of such gas, should an issue occur. Individuals who notice the presence of hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs, are advised to contact Vectren immediately.

Though the individuals who live and work on the private farm were notified, Kelley said Vectren did not contact adjacent property owners. Geoff McKim, a Monroe County council member, was also blindsided by the operations on Monday morning. He said such operations aren’t a county-regulated activity and that local government doesn’t have authority over the project. He called the lack of communication unfortunate.

“If you’re suddenly going to be installing some equipment that’s going to create a lot of noise and alarm with neighbors, you would think they’d want to have some communication with neighbors,” McKim said. “My general experience is that, if they don’t have to, they won’t.”

Contact reporter Kurt Christian at 812-331-4350.

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