Thursday, October 21, 2010

Garrigan shines light on dark side of energy

Newcastle, Wyoming has been part of energy production since coal was discovered nearby and shipped through town by rail; a hand-dug oil well is a local tourist attraction. The Rapid City Journal's Mary Garrigan reminds readers back in September just how dependent some communities are on industry no matter what the cost. Resident Rhonda Sandness begins this story that got by me:
It was so pungent and so strong. It smelled like dead cattle and propane mixed together,” Sandness said. “I couldn’t see. My eyes were watering. My throat felt like it was closing up. I couldn’t breathe.”
Carol Wolfe and Forest Sullivan smelled it, too.

“It was like hitting a wall of vapor,” said Sullivan, who was returning to his Newcastle home from Rapid City about 7 p.m. when he first encountered the odor. It filled his home, killed birds in his backyard and sickened his dogs.

Wolfe described a sulfuric acid smell that lingered for days and caused her throat to burn and bleed.
Sullivan called 911 on July 29 to report what he assumed was a noxious odor — and a public safety issue — caused by the Wyoming Refining Co. Bad smells are not unusual at the oil refinery, which is located, literally, on Main Street in this town of 3,000 people on the southwestern edge of the Black Hills National Forest.
Elliott and Ellis Hemler are two longtime Newcastle residents who blame Wyoming Refining for a litany of health ailments. The refinery does have a history spotted with spills, leaks and soil contamination that have occurred over its more than 80 years of operation. That includes a 2005 pipeline leak at a pumping station at Mule Creek Junction, where remediation is still ongoing after the 6-inch pipeline that brings gasoline from the refinery to Rapid City leaked up to 200 barrels. Elliott alleged the cumulative effect of those pollutants has had a detrimental effect on the health of many, including him.
Garrigan's story is horrifyingly comprehensive and comes on the heels of the announcement that Black Hills Corp. is closing the ancient asbestos-cited coal-fired plant just upwind at Osage.

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