Wyoming deploys strategy to battle ozone

Dustin Bleizeffer

— March 14, 2013

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality on Thursday made public its Ozone Strategy, a requirement of the federal “non-attainment” designation applied to the Sublette County area due to multiple wintertime ozone events that threatened human health.

According to DEQ, the spikes in ground-level ozone were triggered by the presence of air pollutants from the Pinedale Anticline and Jonah natural gas fields.

“Putting together this strategy allows us to be organized in our ability to move forward with reducing ozone precursor emissions, namely VOCs — volatile organic compounds — and NOx — nitrous oxides,” DEQ Air Quality Division administrator Steven Dietrich said in an audio clip sent to Wyoming media.

Dietrich added, “This plan is a way to go about it both from a regulatory standpoint and a voluntary standpoint to reduce those precursor emissions.”

DEQ officials say they will embrace recommendations from a citizens’ advisory task force as part of the state’s Ozone Strategy. They include a “leak detection and repair” program in the Pinedale Anticline and Jonah natural gas fields, and a new effort to quantify pollution emissions from produced-water treatment and storage facilities.

These pipelines are part of the heavy industrial natural gas field in the Pinedale Anticline. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

Both of these measures are aimed potential emissions sources that many locals believe have been overlooked by DEQ and the natural gas operators in the area.

Reached for comment on Friday, citizens advisory task force member Isabel Rucker said she is pleased that DEQ is including many of the task force recommendations, because they were a hard-fought compromise and represent common-sense efforts that are not exactly spelled out in the state’s current set of rules and regulations.

“If they are saying that about water treatment, that would be awesome, becuase that’s a large source of emissions totally unregulated. … I don’t know why that’s been off the radar for so long,” said Rucker.

“If they want to do stack-testing (leak detection and repair), on all of those facilities, there are thousands of them and those leaks add up,” Rucker added.

“I am pleased that the DEQ has maintained its pledge to continue forward on all of the task force’s recommendations,” Bruce Pendery with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, who served on the task force, said in a prepared statement. “These actions will help clean up the air in Pinedale and better protect local citizens. However, certain actions, including reducing pollution from drilling rigs and engines used in the oil and gas fields, are not included in the strategy and they should be going forward.”

Jon Goldstein, senior energy policy manager at the Environmental Defense Fund, said, “Wyoming has a  history of leadership in regulating air emissions from the oil and gas sector, and the requirements already in place in the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields are a big piece of that.”

Natural gas operators have consolidated facilities to help reduce emissions of NOx and VOCs, which are precursors to wintertime ozone spikes. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

Goldstein added, “Expanding the requirements to install the best emissions controls available across the region makes sense and is good news. Questions remain about plans to reduce emissions in the medium to long term, but this strategy shows that DEQ is giving many of the nearer term actions the attention they deserve.”

Earlier this month, I reported that the exact conditions that trigger a wintertime ozone spike in the Upper Green River Basin still eludes industry and state regulatory officials. The University of Wyoming, along with federal, state and industry partners, are still researching the emissions and meteorological conditions in the area so they can development plan that provides some certainty that ozone events will not persist.

Despite the fact that there have been no wintertime ozone spikes (an average ozone concentration of 75 parts per billion or higher over eight hours) for the past two years, Wyoming is still obligated to prove to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it has a handle on ozone.

For more on this subject, read these related stories:

Emission questions loom large over oil and gas industry, March 5, 2013

Wyoming DEQ blocks university research on ozone, December 20, 2012

Pristine to Polluted, May 2011

— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. Reach him at 307-577-6069 or dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter @DBleizeffer.

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Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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