Volume 105, Number 20 - May 15, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Panelists urge residents to stay involved
by Alecia Warren
After sitting through environmental meetings held first by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and then the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Sublette County citizens turned away from government completely on Tuesday night to hold a public information meeting of their own.
Their goal? To educate themselves on the county’s delicate environmental health and search for solutions that the state and federal governments haven’t offered so far.
As a PBS camera perused the highprofile event, 125 people shuffled into the Pinedale High School auditorium to hear the panel discussion sponsored by Citizens Learning about Ozone’s Unhealthy Destruction (CLOUD).
The crowd, which included the general public as well as representatives of the BLM and energy industry, was evidence of locals’ lingering fixation with how to best address air and water quality regulations after recent pollution crises.
“If nothing else, (the meeting) raised a level of concern about health issues,” said Elaine Crumpley, member of CLOUD, which locals formed only a few weeks ago in response to recent ozone alerts. “That was the point. I can only hope that it was a success.”
The panel included four environmental health experts who shared their concerns with energy development and suggested solutions. Although their experiences stemmed from either out of county or out of state, the panelists’ recommendations could hold true anywhere: for citizens to take energy development issues to a grassroots level and fight for the change that industry and government might not make on their own.
Research is the primary place to start, advised panelist Dr. Theo Colborn, environmental health specialist.
Colborn discussed her painstaking research of chemicals used in development projects across Colorado and New Mexico, and she pointed out how many potentially toxic materials go unmonitored on the gas fields.
In fact, 100 percent of chemicals used for natural gas production in Wyoming can create at least one health defect, she said, and 87 percent can create between four and 14 health defects.
The problem is, no one knows exactly how much of these materials are being used, she said, and Sublette County should require more monitoring.
“We need accountability,” Colborn said. “We can’t go out and test for something if we don’t know what to look for.”
Panelist Jill Morrison of the Powder River Basin Council likewise discussed impacts from coal bed methane development in Northeast Wyoming.
Although Morrison acknowledged that Sublette County might not suffer the same problems of flooding or erosion, she said locals here can use the same resources to protect their environment.
Ranchers in the Powder River Basin who battled for property rights, for instance, teamed with various conservation organizations and federal agencies to create the Wyoming Split Estate Act.
“One of the things we need to look at both statewide and nationwide is what kind of legislation do we need to make the industry do a better job?” Morrison said.
Community monitoring can also help to pressure for action, she added.
“It’s really important not to think that U.S. citizens can’t gather some of this important data, because it also helps spur the industry and government to get involved as well,” she said.
Panelist Jeremy Nichols, pollution reduction specialist, said ozone not only causes permanent lung damage among developing children but can also accelerate respiratory problems that lead to premature death.
“I know the initial response I heard from some people is that (ozone) is all just meteorology,” he said, pointing out that ozone can only form with enough heat and sunlight. “But without emissions, there’s no ozone.”
And unfortunately for locals, the BLM’s projections of ozone precursors Nitrous Oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on the Pinedale Anticline are ominous.
Nichols reported that by 2021, anticline drilling operations will release more than 23,000 tons of NOx, equivalent to the amount created by 1.2 million cars. The gas field activities will also release more than 30,000 tons of VOCs, which is 16 times the amount released by the Sinclair oil refinery — currently the largest VOC source in Wyoming.
“What needs to drive change is that emissions need to be reduced,” Nichols said. He suggested VOC controls like better leak detection, and NOx reduction with cleaner burning rig engines.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that for every dollar spent on reducing ozone, the country saves $8.50 in public health costs, Nichols said. “More importantly, the value of raising healthy, happy children is priceless,” he added.
Sublette County residents can ensure that standard of public health themselves, said panelist Mark Sullivan, an environmental attorney. “What I’d recommend (to preserve your environment) is a three-pronged approach, and it’s basically fight, fight and fight,” Sullivan said. “You’ve got to get out there and participate and use the laws that are at your disposal.”
The most obvious legal option is participating in the National Environmental Policy Advisory (NEPA) process.
Most locals already know the process in which the BLM adapts drilling proposals according to information gathered from public meetings and comment periods.
“My first recommendation to you all is participate, go to public hearings, be part of the process, put in your two cents and an agency will have to respond,” Sullivan said. Locals can also rely on the Clean Air Act, he said, under which the EPA recently lowered the national ozone limit to 75 parts per billion (ppb).
Sublette County has already surpassed that multiple times — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Sullivan said.
“It seems that we’re on the cusp of what’s called a non-attainment designation in Sublette County,” he said, referring to a federal label assigned to areas in violation of the national ozone standard.
When this occurs, the federal government gives the state authority to impose rigid regulations spanning all areas of the energy industry, including transportation, drilling rigs and minor emission sources like condensers that aren’t currently regulated at all.
“For (the community’s) own health and its own safety, you should want the non-attainment designation so the state has all the tools at its disposal to impose stringent controls on industry here,” Sullivan said. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to shut down industry. It means that proper controls are going to be placed on all the equipment out there.”
Shell representative Deena McMullen said she didn’t agree with Sullivan’s assertion that non-attainment was a viable answer.
“That’s not good for industry, and it’s especially not good for the community,” Mc-Mullen said. “I think we can come up with solutions without involving the federal government by working together with the agencies, the community and industry. Industry’s part of the solution.”
EnCana spokesperson Randy Teeuwen said the panel consisted of a lot of “out-oftowners” who were “not well informed about Sublette County issues.”
Most of the panelists’ suggestions for reducing emissions, for instance, are already practiced on the Jonah Field, Teeuwen said, including the use of natural-gas powered rigs. The company has also provided a $24.5 million fund for mitigation that allows constant monitoring of emissions on the field, he added.
“I think the industry was portrayed as not caring about the environmental aspects of what we do,” he said, adding his frustration that industry representatives weren’t given a chance to speak at the meeting. “Speaking for EnCana, we are very concerned about a lot of the environmental impacts that we have, and we are addressing them.”
Photo credits: Alecia Warren
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