Upper Green River Basin haze. Photo by Kyle Duba with LightHawk aerial support.
The goal: protecting public health as soon as possible
On September 19, the Upper Green River Basin Air Quality Citizens Advisory Task Force, which was established by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, made recommendations for ways to reduce the dangerous ozone pollution—sometimes called smog—that has plagued the Pinedale area for several years.
These consensus recommendations followed nine months of deliberations by the task force and six lengthy meetings.
Arriving at consensus recommendations was no mean feat for this group of 26 representatives of divergent interest groups—oil and gas industry, county government officials, city government officials, the Governor’s office, the U.S. Forest Service, the federal Bureau of Land Management, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, local citizens, and environmental groups.
I had the privilege of representing the Wyoming Outdoor Council and its members on this task force.
All told, the task force delivered 11 consensus recommendations to the Department of Environmental Quality.
These recommendations should guide the DEQ as it seeks, ultimately, to reduce ozone pollution and better protect the people that live and work in the Upper Green River Basin.
Exposure to ground-level ozone, even in relatively low concentrations, can cause serious health problems, including permanent damage to the lungs.
Air pollution principally from the oil and gas operations in the area has been shown to be the major contributor to ozone pollution in the Pinedale area, and therefore the task force recommendations appropriately focus on the oil and gas industry.
The recommendations call for the DEQ to take the following steps in the Upper Green River Basin:
- Control air pollution from existing oil and gas stationary sources, including currently unregulated oil and gas industry air pollution sources.
- Uniformly require contingency plans for oil and gas industry operations during high ozone pollution days.
- Reduce nitrogen oxide air pollution (a key component in ozone formation) from all drilling rigs and completion/hydraulic fracturing operations. Develop leak detection and repair standards.
- Analyze the emissions from evaporation and produced-water ponds and other pits and determine if better controls are needed.
- Improve ozone monitoring, inventory, and air quality modeling and make this information available to the public.
- Use incentives to accelerate emissions reductions and increase DEQ staffing levels to manage air quality issues in the Upper Green.
In many cases, there are recommendations that these provisions be accompanied by a phase-in period and that incentives be provided to accelerate emissions reductions. You can download a PDF of the full recommendations at the DEQ website by clicking here.
An environmental advocacy group like the Wyoming Outdoor Council could criticize some of these recommendations and seek stronger provisions. For example, the phase-in provisions in many of the recommendations could allow the DEQ to delay pollution controls for an unreasonable amount of time.
But, overall, these are strong recommendations, and we encourage the DEQ to implement them in an expeditious manner.
The fact that 26 disparate interest groups and individuals were able to reach consensus recommendations is somewhat remarkable. And industry representatives on the task force supported strong protections for air quality, which is significant.
What will happen next remains to be seen. The DEQ will evaluate the recommendations and we anticipate that within about two months it will report back to the task force—and to the public—on its plans for implementing, or not implementing, these recommendations.
I am hopeful that all of them will be adopted, in their strongest form possible, so that we can reduce the dangerous ozone pollution that has plagued the Upper Green River Basin. This is a public health issue that can and should be corrected as soon as possible.
Ozone is widely known to cause a host of respiratory problems, and it is a toxic air pollutant relatively low concentrations. The unhealthy ozone levels we have seen in the Upper Green River Basin in recent years must be reduced to ensure public health is protected.
If we can reduce the ozone pollution in the Pinedale area, not only will provide an important public health benefit, but it will also help reduce the smoggy haze that can ruin the stunning views of the landscapes in the area.
Moreover, now that the EPA has formally designated the Upper Green River Basin (Sublette County and portions of Sweetwater and Lincoln Counties) in nonattainment with the national ozone standard, if the state does not bring the area back into compliance with the ozone standard by the end of 2015, even more severe pollution controls could be required by the Clean Air Act, which is something the energy industry, and others in Wyoming, do not want to face.
These recommendations, therefore, which focus on controlling air pollution from the most significant pollution sources in the Upper Green River Valley (which are all related to industrial activities in the oil and gas fields), are important and they should be implemented by the state.
Contact: Bruce Pendery, program director, Wyoming Outdoor Council, firstname.lastname@example.org or 435-752-2111.
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