Wyoming environmental regulators have approved a controversial natural gas processing plant in Douglas, ending a prolonged debate between residents concerned about the facility’s impact on local air quality and those who view it as integral to the future of energy development in the region.
The Department of Environmental Quality approved a permit for the Converse County Natural Gas Processing Plant on Dec. 12. The permit paves the way for construction to begin at the facility, which will be jointly owned and operated by Access Midstream Partners of Oklahoma City and Houston-based Crestwood Midstream Partners.
An Access spokesperson estimated the plant will be operational by the second half of this year.
Natural gas production in Converse County is booming. The county’s output of the hydrocarbon increased by 41 percent in 2013, rising from almost 13 million cubic feet in 2012 to slightly more than 18 million cubic feet last year, according to Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission statistics.
The region has struggled to get much of that gas to market. Pipelines and processing facilities are stretched to capacity, prompting producers to frequently flare, or burn off, gas they cannot ship. The new processing plant will help remedy that problem, Access officials said.
A Crestwood spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
“The plant will allow us to process up to 120 million cubic feet of natural gas per day for our customers at full capacity -- a marked increase in delivery of natural gas products to market in this area,” said Debbie Nauser, an Access spokesperson.
The Douglas facility will remove liquid natural gas from the gas stream. The pure gas will be sent to market via pipeline; the resulting liquid products such as propane and butane will be shipped by truck. In their permit, Crestwood and Access estimated the facility will produce 16,275 barrels of liquid natural gas daily, enough for roughly 76 truck shipments.
But the plant has been dogged by concerns that it will degrade local air quality. Residents’ worries boiled over at a public meeting in October, with some expressing fears pollution from the plant would hurt everything from people to livestock.
Bob Kayser, a longtime Douglas resident and chairman of Memorial Hospital of Converse County, argued the facility’s natural gas-fired compressors would generate serious quantities of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. The plant’s five compressors should run off electric motors, he said, a move that would eliminate formaldehyde emissions and reduce the facility’s overall energy usage.
The DEQ did not evaluate Kayser’s recommendation, ruling instead that its strategy to control emissions was adequate.
On Monday, Kayser was holding out hope the company would still install electric motors – even if such a move is not required by the state.
“The company has an opportunity to be a good citizen of the community by reducing emissions to the lowest level possible,” he said. “We’re not against intelligent development. But if you’re going to do it, then do it right. Minimize the impact on the community.”
His wish looks unlikely to be granted, though. Nauser said it is more efficient to operate the plant on the natural gas it processes.
Kayser’s were not the lone environmental concerns. Converse County’s energy boom has led to a corresponding rise in ozone pollution, said Jill Morrison, an organizer for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Sheridan-environmental group.
The cumulative impact of facilities like the Converse County Natural Gas Processing Plant could put the region over the limit, she said.
“I think the point we are trying to make is that it is better to be preventive and limit emissions before you go into a nonattainment situation,” Morrison said. A nonattainment zone is one that exceeds federal ozone standards. “I think the issue for the public is when we get a lot of industry in an area, it is going to degrade the air quality and it is going to impact peoples’ health. It may not exceed the limit, but people are still going to be impacted.”
DEQ officials disagreed. The plant’s permit is more stringent than federal standards, limiting the types of pollution that cause ozone, they said. And they argued that Converse County is not close to exceeding federal safety standards for ozone.
The federal standard is based on a three-year average and is not to exceed 75 parts per billion. The monitoring station in the Thunder Basin National Grassland in nearby Campbell County recorded ozone levels of 65 parts per billion between 2010 and 2012, DEQ said. Two stations in Converse County each recorded levels 61 parts per billion during 2013.
“We issued a permit that we feel meets all the requirements from a regulatory and technical standpoint,” said Steve Dietrich, administrator of DEQ’s Air Quality Division. “It gives us no reason to believe the facility is not going to meet its permit limits.”