NOx and VOC emissions from oil and gas facilities are the precursors for possible ozone spikes in the Upper Green River Basin. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

The Wyoming Air Quality Advisory Board voted unanimously Wednesday to back regulations limiting emissions at existing oil and gas facilities in the Pinedale area where smog has violated federal standards.

 Following a full morning of comments, including calls for a number of changes proposed by the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and other industry voices, the five-member appointed board wasted little time. The board swiftly recommended approval of the rules to limit ozone pollution, saying late-arriving technical comments could be addressed when the Environmental Quality Council considers the regulation’s final adoption.

“Since there is another comment period coming up (before the EQC) those comments can be considered by that body,” board member Diana Hulme said in making her motion.

Klaus Hanson seconded the motion. “I feel the region needs something to go ahead to take care of their problem,” he said.

Residents said smog was affecting their health and had urged passage of rules.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s advisory committee voted unanimously to pass the state’s proposal to limit emissions of toxins that may contribute to ozone spikes. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s advisory committee voted unanimously to pass the state’s proposal to limit emissions of toxins that may contribute to ozone spikes. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, had asked for several changes, including one that would allow companies to obtain an exemption should they be held up meeting rules through no fault of their own. Other requests by industry representatives called for amendments addressing pneumatic pumps and storage tanks, among other things.

Paul Ulrich of Jonah Energy supported the rule.

The Department of Environmental Quality had set a Dec. 1 deadline for comments, but also allowed people to speak at the meeting. “We were not aware of the Dec. 1 deadline until after Dec. 1 — my apologies,” Robataille said.

DEQ staff said it was unable to address all the technical industry comments made Wednesday without study. So the board passed the rules as staff had presented them.

At issue is the health of residents in the upper Green River valley, where ozone spikes have produced readings higher than federal regulations allow, including one event that measured higher than in Los Angeles. Mary Lynn Worl of the group Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development said three residents at an open house the evening before told her they had chronic coughs or sore throats. 

“This is a common thread we hear in Sublette County,” she said. Yet the complaints are difficult to quantify.

“Statistics are simply not on our side because of our low population,” she said. Nevertheless, “science is very strong regarding the health impacts not only of ozone but also with NOx (nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide) and (volatile organic compounds) — the toxicity of these chemicals,” she said.

“We’re not immune to the toxicity of the chemicals in our air.

This DEQ ozone monitoring station relays information from a residential district in Pinedale. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

Pinedale resident Dave Hohl read a letter from the American Lung Association that said exposure to high levels of ozone leads to lung problems, emphysema, bronchitis and infections. It is a leading cause of hospital visits, especially among children, the letter said. Heart problems, harm to the central nervous system, reproductive problems “and even premature death,” can result. 

He called for even stricter rules than those proposed. The regulations would exempt many facilities that emit fewer than 4 tons of ozone-contributing toxins a year. The 4-ton threshold does not address upwards of 85 percent of operations, he said.

Bruce Pendery of the Wyoming Outdoor Council also called for tighter standards but urged the board to forward the rules to the Environmental Quality Council. “The people of the upper Green River basin deserve the protection these rules will offer now, not at some uncertain time in the future,” he said. 

Former Rep. Jim Roscoe, a property owner in the non-attainment area, said he had pushed for development of natural gas, “a fantastic fuel.” He lamented the “non-attainment mess we created.”

“We want to develop our natural resources in a responsible way,” he said. “If we do this (rule adoption) decisions will be made in Wyoming,” not in Washington, D.C.

The rules represent “common sense, cost-effective and prudent” pollution control, said Jon Goldstein of the Environmental Defense Fund. The sooner Wyoming adopts regulations, “the better off the state will be in solving the current problem as well as (getting) ahead of the problem that will be coming.”

Sweetwater County public lands planner Mark Kot called for balance. A part of Sweetwater County is in the non-attainment area. The energy industry benefits his local government greatly, he said. “Keep balance in mind,” he said.

DEQ staff said it had worked with all parties over an extended period. 

“The comments have helped us to develop a clear, concise rule,” said Steve Dietrich, Wyoming DEQ air quality administrator. He requested approval. 

The regulations are designed “to keep Wyoming at the forefront of sensible … regulations,” DEQ staffer Darla Potter said.

Rules would require instrument-based leak detection and repair at well pads, single wells and compressor stations. Inspections would be made four times a year. Rules would require changes to various pumps and other machinery to ensure they emit less. Regulations would limit the use of temporary tanks to store various liquids.

Regulations also would limit emissions of volatile organic compounds – precursors to ozone — from storage tanks and separation vessels. Again, sources emitting less than 4 tons a year would not be covered.

For more on this topic, read these WyoFile articles:
Tempest buffets new air quality rules for Sublette County, December 4, 2014
Study finds toxins, cancer-causing air pollution at oil, gas wells, October 2014
UW air quality research goes global, July 2013
Pristine to Polluted, May 2011

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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