Monday, November 20, 2006

US man dies huffing at natural gas well

Man dies 'huffing' at gas well
A 21-year-old Wise County man died after he reportedly inhaled natural gas at a well site to get high, authorities reported Friday.
It is the first such "huffing" incident known to officials.
Ezekiel B. Thomas was found unconscious late Thursday near a Devon Energy gas well in the 200 block of Private Road 4435, according to Sgt. Debbie Denney, a Wise County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman.
Thomas' stepfather told investigators that Thomas and several friends trespassed onto the fenced gas-well site near Thomas' home east of Decatur, Denney said.
At least two other people were reported to have been huffing with Thomas, Denney said. The friends left, returned and found Thomas unresponsive.
Investigators think they got access to the gas through an unlocked hatch cover.
An ambulance took Thomas to Wise Regional Hospital in Decatur, where he was pronounced dead. The Dallas County medical examiner will determine the cause of death, Denney said.
Natural gas typically has no odor and can cause asphyxiation after prolonged exposure, said Dr. Elvin Adams, medical director for the Tarrant County Public Health Department.
"These types of gases displace oxygen, and you don't know it because it doesn't smell any different than the rest of the air," he said. "You can pass out within 15 seconds. If you do not remove yourself from the source, you will never wake up again."
Fences are not required around outdoor natural-gas wells because they are usually on private property, said Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman for the Texas Railroad Commission.
The Devon well had a locked fence around it, Denney said, but it did not have a lock on the hatch cover.
A Devon spokesman referred all questions to the Wise County Sheriff's Department.
Law enforcement officials in Parker and Tarrant counties said they have not heard reports of similar incidents at gas wells.
"That's something I hope will not become a problem," said Terry Grisham, spokesman for the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department. "I hope people know that it is very dangerous."
Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler said, "We've had problems with people stealing things from the sites, such as copper wiring. But I don't think they are young people or teenagers just hanging around."
Harvey Weiss, executive director of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition in Chattanooga, Tenn., said huffing from a natural-gas well is a new form of inhalant abuse.
"I've not heard about that at all," Weiss said.
Therefore, he said, he could not estimate how much a huffer could inhale before dying. In a phenomenon called sudden sniffing death, a huffer's heartbeat becomes irregular, Weiss said. A rush of adrenaline could stop the heart, he said.
Taken from the Central Pennsylvania Star-Telegram