From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 7, Number 52 - March 20, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

DEQ Addresses Air, Water Issues With County Commission
Officials will return for upcoming public info meeting
by Joy Ufford

At the invitation of the Sublette County Commission, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ ) officials attended Tuesday’s meeting to update commissioners on local air/ozone and water quality issues.

The recent high-level ozone advisories at three local DEQ air-quality monitoring sites were the driving factor behind the commissioners’ request – and the DEQ’s quick response – to visit Pinedale for the meeting. Due to short notice, DEQ wasn’t on the agenda so officials committed to return in two or three weeks for a fullfledged air/ozone and water quality public presentation.

DEQ Director John Corra introduced staff and others attending who came along to answer questions. “We are here for one major reason,” Corra said. “We are here to talk to the county commissioners to see if we are meeting their needs ... and to see if we are meeting needs for air and water quality management.”

DEQ Water Quality Administrator John Wagner, with West District Supervisor Mark Thiesse, gave a quick overview of countywide water quality monitoring pertaining to groundwater, surface water, storm water and commercial water disposal pits.

Groundwater monitoring is required in the Jonah Record of Decision (ROD), the Pinedale Anticline ROD and by the DEQ’s 2006 one-time letter requesting operators to undertake more monitoring,Wagner explained. That was in response to contamination in oil and gas field water wells, he said.

Wagner said a potential cause was lack of back-flow preventers on connecting pipes between trucks and water sources and the contamination possibly came from trucks’ previous hydrocarbon loads.

“We also recommended some ‘best management practices’ – we didn’t really have the authority to request back-flow preventers but we went as far as we could,”Wagner said. Commissioner John Linn asked if the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is “the authority” on operators. Wagner replied that the “BLM can be more proactive than DEQ.”

Corra said current conversations with the BLM about its groundwater section in the Anticline Draft SEIS will “be strengthened significantly.” As for surface water, Wagner said, “we’re not really showing anything ... as an issue with oil and gas development.” Linn asked if the DEQ and Sublette County Conservation District (SCCD) now have a good working relationship. “I think our relationship is very good,” Corra said, and SCCD’s Darrell Walker agreed.

“It would make sense to have (water quality information) all in one spot,” Linn commented.

Corra has suggested the BLM do a “comprehensive groundwater program” in the Draft SEIS that characterizes aquifers, requires staff to monitor and collect data and make reports. “If it fails, DEQ is more than willing to work with (SCCD),” he said. “There is no reason why (information) couldn’t reside here and SCCD could do ground and surface water.” Linn said he was concerned the monitoring could become “an operator-driven process” and would prefer to see all responsibility with one entity.

As for water disposal pits, Corra said, DEQ only has regulatory authority over the five commercial disposal pits; if a pit is on private or state land it is regulated by the Oil and Gas Commission and if on BLM land, by the BLM, he said.

Two of the five are inactive; the Newpark Pit is closed and for sale and the oldest, Ball Pit – “the most problematic one” – has contaminated some groundwater, he said. It holds oil and sludge but its owners don’t have the financial resources to close and reclaim it, Corra said.

Commissioners, officials and audience members questioned possible regulatory changes to help control overall water quality.

“What concerns me is these disposal pits are under the... regulations that were developed for hog farms,” said County Planning and Zoning Board Chair Albert Sommers.

Corra agreed to look into concerns and update DEQ standards and regulations as possible.

Next, Air Quality Administrator Dave Finley explained the complexities of ozone creation and its adverse effects before showing graphs detailing past and recent average Sublette ozone levels.

“Is there a difference between ozone up there and down here,” asked Linn. “How do you get the difference?” “Bear with me here,” Finley replied, and presented three years’ worth of ozone data. Next, DEQ will gather data from 2006, 2007 and 2008 at the end of this year to determine whether or not Boulder, Daniel and Jonah ozone levels are in compliance with national standards, he said.

Earlier in the day, Finley reported ir and water teams with EPA, DEQ and BLM members provided Anticline Draft SEIS status reports on Monday to upper-level agency managers.

“The teams will continue to work to determine if EPA’s review questions can be answered now with existing data or to recommend additional analysis if necessary,” he said. The DEQ began its local ozone study January-March 2007 and decided to continue it this spring because the high winter levels are very unusual, he told commissioners. “This is a brand new science for ozone formation,” Finley said of the high levels due to ultraviolet rays’ reflections off unbroken snow through air with pollutants.

DEQ needs more “workable usable tools” to predict ozone levels in the Upper Green River Basin and a “short-term contingency plan,” he added. Then DEQ can explore regulatory options and recommend industry install further emission controls.

Commissioner Joel Bousman thanked DEQ for attending the meeting and left officials some parting questions: “Is our groundwater monitoring program adequate?... How do you manage over the short term? What are regulatory options? We look forward to a continued discussion with you on both of these issues.” SCCD’s Walker said he would like to see a total summary of air and water quality with Sublette ratings “really spelled out.”

“We really need to pinpoint what is our total air quality and our total water quality,” he said.

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