From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 8, Number 30 - October 16, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Agencies hold Sublette air-quality conference

by Derek Farr

Little more than a week after the Sublette County Commissioner’s ozone forum, the area’s air quality is again the center of attention.

This time it is the centerpiece of regional regulatory agencies.

The Greater Yellowstone Area Clean Air Partnership (GYACAP) met Wednesday at the Sublette County Library in the first of two days of discussion.

This isn’t the group’s first trip to Pinedale. In 2001 and 2004 the GYACAP met to discuss the emergent gas industry and its potential effects on the area’s air quality.

“The subject of oil and gas development was so important, we thought we’d come back,” said Mark Story of the U.S. Forest Service in Bozeman. The meeting’s subject was “Gas Development and Air Quality in the Upper Green River Basin in SW Wyoming.”

About 25 representatives from state and federal regulatory agencies, an environmental advocate and an EnCana employee gathered for Wednesday’s meeting. At least two government representatives came from Washington, D.C.

Story said the four primary sources of air pollution in the Greater Yellowstone Area are industrial/urban (primarily in Montana), snowmobiles (primarily in Yellowstone National Park), wildfire (region-wide) and oil and gas production (primarily in southwest Wyoming).

And Sublette County sits in the center of the oil and gas production bull’s-eye. In particular, the existence of wintertime ozone pollution has brought attention to the Upper Green River Valley (UGRV).

Story said the pollution and its mitigation is “very, very complicated” adding, “Hopefully in two days you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s going on here.”

Bill Lanning, Bureau of Land Management’s Pinedale assistant field office manager, was the first speaker. He appeared to address a comment made by Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Director John Corra at last week’s ozone forum that the BLM has no “vehicle” for communicating with the state government concerning federal oil and gas leases.

Lanning said Wednesday the DEQ “has had input to (the BLM’s) Resource Management Plan” and “(the DEQ) definitely gets involved with our specific projects.”

Concerning those projects, Lanning explained the UGRV has approximately 3,490 producing gas wells with another 4,399 approved for the anticline. He said gas operators are working to mitigate the release of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) into the atmosphere by building “liquids gathering systems” or pipelines that eliminate the need for condensate storage – a source of VOC – and reduce the amount of truck traffic – a source of NOx – in the gas fields.

Ozone pollution is formed by a complex series of chemical reactions between VOC, NOx and ultraviolet (UV) rays. Because air masses stagnate in the UGRV and because late-winter snow cover magnifies the sun’s UV, ozone reaches concentrations usually only seen in big cities during the summer. With more wells slated for the area, it was asked if these would create more ozone.

EnCana employee David Stewart said his company has shown that an increase in production doesn’t necessarily correlate to an increase in pollution. He said that between 2005 and 2007, EnCana’s VOC dropped by half while production increased.

“I do think that it’s possible to improve production and reduce emittance,” he said. “It’s been done to date and it can be done in the future.”

The future of Sublette County’s air quality will require a reduction of controllable ozone precursors and increased monitoring, according to DEQ Air Quality Planning Section Manager Paige Smith. She told the group that forecasting ozone events is critical to protect the public and understand the problem. She said Pinedale’s new DEQ monitors should be operational by November and with the knowledge gained by last year’s studies, ozone forecasts and warnings should be more accurate. That would allow the public to take necessary precautions but it should also notify researchers to prepare for an Intensive Operating Period (IOP) where researchers will deploy a wider array of monitoring devices to study the ozone.

It is hoped IOPs will help researchers understand the problem, which will lead to more effective mitigation. Understanding the ozone problem is critical to the GYACAP as well. For two days, the group will meet in the morning and travel to the gas fields in the afternoon.

The information gained will become part of a comprehensive understanding of southwestern Wyoming’s air-quality issues. The GYACAP has no authority and no funding but it hopes to influence decisions made by state DEQs and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect national park and forests’ interests.

The GYACAP was chartered in 1997 between the National Forest Service and the National Park Service “to coordinate air quality in the GYA and to serve as an advisor group to the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee.”

In 1999 state DEQs from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming became part of the group. In 2005 the Bureau of Land Management became an active partner. The GYACAP meets at least once a year to coordinate air monitoring, provide air-quality assessments of the GYA, develop consistent air-quality management strategies and provide a forum for air-quality topics, according to its Web site. The last time the GYACAP met in Pinedale was in 2004 where presenters included Darla Potter of the Wyoming DEQ, Jim Sewell of Shell Oil Company and Carol Kruse, Karen Rogers, Kellie Roadifer and Susan Caplan of the BLM.

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