From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 7, Number 50 - March 6, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Ozone Alert, EPA Concerns Overlap

by Joy Ufford

First, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s sent off its sharp criticisms of the Bureau of Land Management’s revised draft Environmental Impact Statement for increased drilling in the Pinedale Anticline.

On its heels came last Wednesday’s ozone advisory alert issued by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, stating that then-current high levels of the invisible gas could be a health hazard for those exerting themselves outside.

That advisory was rescinded on Saturday after winds brought the high levels down to a “good” range as noted on the DEQ’s air-quality monitors stationed at Boulder, Daniel and the Jonah.

The two are now over lapping issues for the EPA and will be examined in a series of meetings planned among the agencies as they work to add more detailed data and analyses on air and water quality to the BLM’s Anticline Revised Draft SEIS.

Agency officials met in Pinedale last Thursday to come up with a plan of action for fixing the RDSEIS and the recent ozone advisory was an unexpected factor, according to EPA air-quality scientist Ken Distler in Denver.

Distler, who reviewed the RDSEIS and provided comments, said at the meeting, Pinedale BLM officials said they are on a “tight schedule” to complete the RDSEIS due to “leases and different agreements with operators.”

“The outcome was that we would pursue separate meetings for each issue laid out in (the EPA’s) response letter,” he said.

The recent high ozone levels are of concern but he stated he didn’t think they constituted a federal violation. Rather than comparing individual readings against the national air-quality ozone standard of .08 parts per million (ppm), EPA compares a three-year average against the standard. In 2007, the three-year averagewas less than .075 ppm, he said.

Nevertheless, Distler said, the ozone advisory was an issue at the last week’s meeting in Pinedale.

“We didn’t anticipate having the ozone concentrations measure hat (high) last week,” he said. “The situation in southwest Wyoming is specific to a certain set of conditions... I haven’t seen all the data yet from last week to compare against the standard for this year.”

On March 12 the EPA releases its new revised national standard, which is expected to drop to between .070 - .075 ppm.

The highest levels recorded last week that triggered the DEQ advisory were at Daniel, 76 parts per billion (ppb); Jonah, 85 ppb and Boulder,122 ppb.

“Good” ozone swaddles the Earth in a stratospheric layer 10 to 30 miles above ground, protecting us fromthe sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

But the same gas (O3, three oxygen atoms) at ground level can be “bad” for human and vegetative health is a new concept for most of us.

Ground-level ozone is “bad” and such air pollutants asvehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, gasoline vapors and chemical solvents aswell as natural sources emit nitrous oxides and volatile organic compounds that help form ozone.

Ground-level ozone is the primary ingredient of smog. Generally, sunlight and hot weather cause ground-level ozone to form in harmful concentrations. However, Sublette County is unusual in that certain winter conditions are forcing levels higher than healthy somedays.

The DEQ is studying to determine if high level days can be predicted.

Its meteorological study shows that ozone elevates in theU pper Green River Basin with strong temperature inversions, low winds, snowcover and bright sunlight, and levels return to normal when one of those conditions change.

Although Sublette County has been the least populated county in the least populated state in the Lower 48, rural areas are no longer exempt from increased ozone levels due to winds carrying the gas and pollutants forming it hundreds if not thousands of miles away from its source.

It doesn’t help too see Sublette County’s air pollution becoming increasingly visible in the area of its massive energy projects in the Jonah Field and on the Mesa. Although ozone is invisible, odorless and tasteless, its presence is pretty much verified by the haze and smog in our local sky.

The EPA administers the federal Clean Air Act to protect human health and preserve air quality by setting maximum limits for a half dozen pollutants. The federal agency must also limit increase in air pollutants in Class I pristine wilderness areas, such as Bridger Wilderness.

Wyoming DEQ is authorized by the EPA to maintain these standards. DEQ also oversees programs that implement, maintain and enforce national air-quality standards and requires Best Available Control Technology for all new or modified sources. DEQ operates its air-quality network to show state compliance with national and state standards.

The BLM is responsible for disclosing its environmental-study considerations and analyses of indirect, direct and cumulative air quality impacts from oil and gas operations it approves. Under the Clean Air Act, the BLM is the responsible agency for maintaining operators’ compliance to these standards.

Reporter’s Note: Wyoming DEQ and Pinedale BLM did not respond to calls before press time. Some information came from EPA and DEQ Web sites (above) and the Upper Green River Valley Coalition (

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