Volume 7, Number 51 - March 13, 2008
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Ozone Alert: DEQ, BLM Focus On Solutions
Two more Sublette County ozone alerts from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ ) appeared this week heightening awareness of unhealthy air pollution from gas-field development. Agencies are hustling to understand the complexity of air-quality degradation and how to prevent ground-level ozone, created by sunlight’s effect on nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – emissions from manmade sources.
The terse alerts didn’t state specific amounts measured at three DEQ Air Quality Division’s (AQD) monitoring stations – Jonah, Boulder and Daniel – but they did contain repeated health warnings.
The warnings aren’t a public relations effort against oil and gas, said AQD Administrator Dave Finley, but they highlight the fact ozone isn’t formed without polluting emissions. “Fundamentally, there’s too much air pollution,” he said of the Jonah/Anticline fields. “If you have the same conditions without emissions, you won’t have the ozone.”
AQD began monitoring in 2005 and didn’t see the “dramatic changes” until recently this winter, he said. Year-round levels were “fairly consistent” except elevated levels in 2005-06 staying below health-based standards.
“We looked in 2007 and we didn’t find them,” Finley said. However, that winter had less snow and fewer “really tight inversions that trap air close to the ground.”
“In ’08 we definitely have problems,” Finley said. “My impression is at least in those conditions where weather sets up in a fashion conducive to ozone production there’s too much pollutionin Sublette County.”
Awake at the wheel
The Clean Air Act in 1997 left DEQ to monitor and regulate pollution, Finley explained, although some sources in energy development aren’t under its jurisdiction.
For example, vehicles only adhere to federal standards. “One truck might not be a huge deal but a lot of trucks might add up to significant air pollution,” he said.
Stationary emission sources such as compression stations and dehys are regulated by DEQ; each is required to use Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to be permitted, he said. “As the state of the art gets better and better we impose more and more stringent requirements,”Finley explained.
There are also thousands of “minor sources” emitting VOCs not regulated by the Clean Air Act, he added.
According to Finley, DEQ revised its pollution control requirements five times since 1997 with the last revision in November, he said.
“As a result, the number of wells and sources are going up; the total VOCs are going down,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you what the amount would be if the state of Wyoming hadn’t stepped in, in1 997. The people who did this had a huge amount of foresight, it seems to me.
“People have not been asleep at the wheel here.”
Drilling rigs are “mobile” pollution sources over which DEQ has no regulation but operators are held to standards through Bureau of Land Management documents such as EIS Records of Decision (ROD).
“We asked the BLM to include some emission reduction requirements in the Jonah Infill ROD” and EnCana agreed to those, Finley said. “EnCana are the leaders in replacing diesel with natural gas engines... which is intrinsically much cleaner and can be further modified to reduce emissions. We think that’s a very promising avenue for companies who want to drill.”
It is BLM’s “significant responsibility” to monitor compliance to an ROD, he added.
The recent ozone alerts aren’t unnoticed in the Pinedale BLM office.
“They heighten our awareness of the problem,” said Field Manager Chuck Otto. “It makes me definitely want to come up with solutions ... Development in the area is one factor in that – we need to find ways to mitigate.”
Otto said the ozone alerts don’t affect the current process to enhance BLM’s Revised Draft Supplemental Environment Impact Statement (RDSEIS) for the Pinedale Anticline because EPA’s criticism of its air and water-quality sections is being addressed.
“It highlights the need we have to come up with a solution,” he added. Two BLM teams are gathering data requested by EPA and will have reports in Monday for EPA review by the end of next week, he said.
BLM and DEQ feel pressure to better understand the ozone issue.
Otto wants the Pinedale Anticline ROD out by mid-summer so, if the BLM’s “preferred alternative” for year-round drilling is chosen operators can file Applications for Permits to Drill (APDs) in late summer and begin befor eNov.15.
For AQD staff, the goal is to reduce ozone levels. Operators are asked to take extra care when venting, maintain engines and reevaluate pollution controls.
“In general the response has been very good,” Finley said.
Figuring out what’s next is complex because the ratio of NOx and VOCs is key in ozone creation; which emissions need to be further regulated“ is not a simple matter,” he explained. “In the case of ozone, we can’t look around for ozone emitters,” he said. “We are madly trying to collect data and develop tools to make better decisions about what kind of pollution reduction (VOC and/or NOx) is necessary out there.
“We would like to have the luxury of studying this... We need to take some action (but) we’re not going to agonize over this– we do sense an urgency in needing to do something and not to make it worse.”
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