From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 32 - August 7, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

DEQ talks tough

by Stephen Crane

The Department of Environmental Quality held a public informational meeting at the Pinedale High School Auditorium on Wednesday night to address citizens’ concerns and to update the DEQ’s current efforts in the area.

Since its public meeting in April, the DEQ has implemented changes to the way it is tackling the environmental issues confronting the Sublette County area.

DEQ Director John Corra hosted the event, addressing the crowd of about 100 throughout the evening, as did Dave Finley, the DEQ’s Air Quality Division Administrator.

Water quality was the first issue addressed, with the DEQ outlining the updates included in the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, released by the Bureau of Land Management on June 27. The latest SEIS will require a number of new methods for developmental oversight, including an expansion of surface and groundwater sampling and monitoring, which gas companies will fund.

The DEQ is continuing to assist with the cleanup associated with contaminated wells for those companies enrolled in the Voluntary Remediation Program (VRP). Currently, British Petroleum has one well and Ultra has five that are being decontaminated, which is a process that involves pumping the aquifer and transporting the water to a processing plant.

Wells with low contamination levels do not require this remedial action, as natural processes purify the water over time. Hydrocarbons have been detected in over 80 wells out of the 260 industrial water supply wells currently being monitored.

Pipe dope used for riser pumps is the primary suspect of the contamination based on the similar chemical composition of the pipe dope as well as the contaminated water.

“We have encouraged the BLM to do all they can for oversight,” Corra said Wednesday night.

But some members of the public voiced their skepticism of both the BLM and the voluntary aspect of the VRP.

“If somebody wants to violate the terms of their agreement,” Corra responded, “it’s up to us to find out if that occurs, and it’s up to us to enforce that.”

With regard to the voluntary program, Corra further explained that while the program is voluntary, the DEQ will still enforce remediation for highly contaminated sites.

“It’s a bit of a misnomer,” Corra said. “You either volunteer or we come get you.”

A policy in place requires that energy companies post a financial cleanup bond. If contamination occurs, the company either voluntarily cleans up the site, or the bond is used to finance cleanup by the DEQ.

As citizens’ questions over water quality came to a close, Dave Smith took the opportunity to bring a jug of water down to the front of the auditorium, to the surprise of John Corra.

“This jug came outta my faucet,” Smith said, pouring a cup of water for himself and Corra. “This is the best water around. Please keep the water quality as good as it is.”

With that, they raised their glasses and gulped the water, as members of the audience applauded his gesture.

Finley then took over the lectern to discuss air quality, as Corra continued to sip from his cup.

Finley took the opportunity to showcase the progress made by the DEQ since the April meeting, and to outline future efforts to combat airborne emissions.

The DEQ’s most recent studies have now documented a net reduction of 400 tons of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), as well as a new permitting process, which will limit the emissions of drill rig engines, engines that account for 51 percent of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in Sublette County.

Finley detailed three strategies by the DEQ to decrease these emissions.

The first would involve voluntary initiatives by the industry. This could include retrofitting production equipment with newer technologies that would burn cleaner, redesigning systems to reduce and eliminate emissions, and a concerted effort to reduce rig emissions.

Many companies in the industry have been hesitant to participate in this program, however, due to the Record of Decision they are awaiting from the BLM in the coming weeks.

“It doesn’t really matter to me whether these companies voluntarily agree to these reductions or not,” Finley said. “We’ll get it one way or the other.”

Another strategy will entail Best Available Control Technology (BACT) requirements. This would include natural gas engines, which are the cleanest burning of all fossil fuels. It would also demand tighter regulations on pneumatic pumps, which produce 15 percent of the VOCs in the county.

The third strategy for emission reduction entails an ozone model for the Green River Basin. By understanding ozone formation, the AQD of the DEQ would be able to custom-tailor its regulations to maximize ozone reduction. Most ozone studies concentrate on urban areas in summer months, when ozone levels are typically highest, but in the Green River Basin, the ozone alerts of this past winter had polar opposite characteristics.

The AQD’s ozone study should be completed by the summer of 2009 or 2010, but its preliminary theory is that the broad snow cover reflects sunlight and the corresponding ultraviolet rays, making ozone levels rise in winter months.

The AQD has also requested that individual energy companies develop action plans for immediate reductions in VOC and NOx emissions when winter conditions are primed for another ozone event.

Pinedale resident Brad Hamner wondered if other members in the audience were overlooking their own contributions to heightened ozone levels and the benefits they receive from gas-powered engines, whether snow removal or pickup trucks.

“Everybody in this room who doesn’t drive a Prius or ride a bicycle is going to have to carpool during those (ozone alerts), huh?” Hamner asked sarcastically.

The DEQ will also require companies to offset their emissions of VOC and NOx. For applications currently under review, the ratio will be 1:1. For application received after Aug. 1, they must be 1.5:1 for VOCs and 1.1:1 for NOx, providing an overall reduction in emissions.

“This may seem obvious to you,” Finley said. “But the government sometimes takes a little longer to decide, and we’ve concluded that an increase in NOx and VOC cannot be justified given the conditions that existed at the Boulder (monitoring) site this year.”

The 2008 ozone value for the Boulder site, which averages the fourth-highest reading over an eight-hour period each day was .101 parts per million. Anything above .08 designates a non-attainment status to the area, which then mandates that federal action be taken by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Therefore, the Boulder readings taken thus far in 2008, would qualify for the nonattainment status.

Many in the audience Wednesday night questioned the DEQs perceived reluctance to initiate the process of non-attainment status, thinking that energy production could then be slowed were the EPA to get involved. But Finley flashed a timeline on the screen comparing the timetable of the DEQ actions with those of the EPA. Federal action would not require attainment until 2016, while the DEQ is demanding changes now.

“The question is not one of attainment or not,” Finley explained to the audience. “The question is what are we doing today, and I think we’re doing a hell of a lot.”

A number of citizens were still not satisfied, particularly in light of the FSEIS, which will likely allow for 4,400 more wells to be drilled.

When asked if these new wells would be included in the reduction and offset program, Finley was not sure but promised to return to Pinedale in a few months with supplemental information.

“I understand it’s your air and your children’s health. And we know we have a problem,” Finley concluded. “We have to reduce emissions, and we’ll do it. It all depends on a lot of actions by people in this room…the DEQ, the BLM, the operators in the industry.”

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