The Upper Green River Basin made it through winter this year without a single action day to prevent ground level ozone from forming, compared to a surprising spike of precautions the previous winter, officials say.
Ozone is the principle component of smog, and is created when sunlight and temperature conditions interact with contaminants like car exhaust and emissions from oil and gas production. It’s a hazardous pollutant and became a common problem in the Upper Green as oil and gas activities in the region increased years ago. Poor air quality conditions more akin to areas like Los Angeles than Wyoming prompted stricter guidelines on industry that apply only to the Upper Green River Basin.
With proposals in the wings like a 5,000-well project in eastern Wyoming, environmental groups are pushing for some Upper Green standards to apply to the entire state. Regulators have not indicated any intention to do so, and industry groups say the cost exceeds the gain.
Snow cover is a key ingredient causing ground level ozone to form in winter, and the limited snow this year was likely the biggest reason for the lack of high ozone days, said Brian Hall, natural resources program manager at the Department of Environmental Quality.
Last year was an anomaly, he said. Ozone levels exceeded federal standards six days in the Upper Green last winter, and on at least 12 days state regulators identified conditions for potential ozone, instituting action days when oil and gas firms decreased activity. It was the first year the region had experienced ozone levels above safe standards since 2011.
The Upper Green carries particular risks for ozone spikes. The surrounding mountain ranges keep pollutants from oil and gas activity in the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields from escaping. A lack of wind and regular snow pack increases the risk of ozone formation.
Wyoming’s strongest air quality standards apply solely to the Upper Green area as a result. Oil and gas firms perform on-the-ground checks of infrastructure every quarter, use infrared equipment to identify leaks and participate in low activity days when regulators forecast potential ozone spikes.
Emissions regulations and air quality controls have taken center stage over the last year given the controversy surrounding new Bureau of Land Management regulations on oil and gas activity. The BLM’s methane waste and reduction rule has been before Congress and the courts numerous times in the last year and is currently being revised by federal regulators.
Many of its rules mirror Wyoming’s Upper Green River standards, such as quarterly checks on infrastructure.
With those rules likely to disappear, environmental groups in Wyoming want the state to increase its own standards, making the Upper Green approach a statewide minimum.
“The concern is not just ozone,” said Dan Heilig, senior conservation advocate at the Wyoming Outdoor Council, noting that the conditions in the Upper Green are unique. “Nonetheless, that doesn’t really negate the need to do a better job of reducing emissions.”
The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission recently reported it had a record 10,000 applications for permits to drill on file, many for activity in the Powder River Basin on the eastern half of the state. Large projects like the Converse County Oil and Gas proposal have instigated pushback from environmental groups who say the 5,000-well project would degrade air quality in the Powder River Basin.
The Wyoming Outdoor Council recently published a report calling on the state to increase its standards before conditions degrade in places like the Powder River Basin, with a particular interest in the leak detection and repair that is required in the Upper Green.
“It seems from our perspective to make a lot of sense,” Heilig said.
Industry is not interested in seeing the Pinedale standards applied to areas like the Powder River Basin.
A better approach would be to align some of Wyoming’s standards with federal rules from the Environmental Protection Agency, like twice-a-year checks of infrastructure, said John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.
Making the Pinedale approach statewide would be too expensive, he said.
“It just doesn’t make economic sense,” he said. With every additional on the ground check, a company spends more money but finds less to fix, he said.
Industry is also concerned by a number of assumptions about how much gas is being vented or flared and how much could be captured with stricter rules. Pipelines and infrastructure to catch additional gas does not exist in many areas of the state, he said.
The Department of Environmental Quality is not currently pursuing an update to its air quality regulations in response to environmental pushback, said Keith Guille, a spokesman for the department.
The Upper Green standards are in place because of the unique problems that the region has faced. Dangerous air quality levels are not present in other areas of the state, he said.
“We haven’t seen those types of levels that we saw in (Pinedale),” Guille said. “Not even close.”
The Department of Environmental Quality and Wyoming Department of Health will hold a post ozone season meeting for the public at 6 p.m. May 2, at the Hampton Inn in Pinedale.
Casper’s parks and recreational facilities are exploring new ways to raise money as city leaders consider setting cost recovery goals for each center.
The city could save approximately $120,000 annually from its general fund if all the proposed goals were met, Parks and Recreation Director Tim Cortez told the Casper City Council at Tuesday’s work session.
City staff is suggesting the following cost recovery targets: 20 percent for Fort Caspar Museum, 50 percent for the Casper Recreation Center, 58 percent for the aquatic center, 60 percent for the Hogadon Basin Ski Area, 65 percent for the Casper Ice Arena and 110 percent for the Casper Municipal Golf Course.
The facilities’ managers should also be permitted to change fees and rates without the Council’s permission, said Cortez. This could help each center meet its assigned goal.
Councilmen Michael Huber and Jesse Morgan both asked about the extent that fees could potentially rise but Cortez could not provide exact figures.
The facilities are exploring other ways to increase revenue and won’t necessarily even be raising fees, he explained.
“We aren’t looking to fee our way out,” he said, adding that some managers might find it more beneficial to reduce rates to bring in bigger crowds.
The Council won’t be voting on the matter until Tuesday, but council members appeared receptive to the ideas.
Explaining that he trusted the on-site managers to make knowledgeable decisions, Vice Mayor Charlie Powell was especially supportive.
“I don’t want to micromanage… I say let’s give them a shot at it,” he said.
Recreation Superintendent Carolyn Griffith said Wednesday that Parks and Recreation employees are aware of the recommendations.
“All of the facility managers feel that this is reasonable,” she said.
The Casper Municipal Golf Course has an average cost recovery rate of 103 percent but will be focusing on marketing efforts in order to hit the proposed target, according to Gary Marsh, the director of golf.
Having the authority to alter rates could also help, he said. Lowering the cost on cold or windy days might encourage more people to play.
But other factors are out of management’s hands.
“We have no control over the weather,” he said, adding that the 110-percent target would be unrealistic during rough spring seasons.
Cortez said Wednesday that there would be no penalties for facilities that are unable to reach the set goals.
“You aren’t going to see anything draconian out of this,” he said, explaining that the targets are only intended to encourage managers to find creative ways to raise revenue or reduce spending.
City staff has been working in recent months to reduce the burden on the general fund. Napier previously said that the city needs to decrease expenditures in order to reduce its reliance on state funding.
The amount of direct distribution funding provided to local governments wildly fluctuates. The state Legislature has doled out under $100 million in tight times or as high as $175 million when the economy is strong.
“My goal for the operations of the city is that we do not depend on one-time revenue for operations of the city government,” Napier previously stated.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his use of the phrase "Mission Accomplished" to describe a U.S.-led missile attack on Syria's chemical weapons program, even as his aides stressed continuing U.S. troop involvement and plans for new economic sanctions against Russia for enabling the government of Bashar Assad.
Stepping up the pressure on Syria's president, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley indicated the sanctions, to be announced today, would be aimed at sending a message to Russia, which she said has blocked six attempts by the U.N. Security Council to make it easier to investigate the use of chemical weapons.
"Everyone is going to feel it at this point," Haley said, warning of consequences for Assad's foreign allies.
"The international community will not allow chemical weapons to come back into our everyday life," she said. "The fact he was making this more normal and that Russia was covering this up, all that has got to stop."
Trump tweeted Sunday that the strike was "perfectly carried out" and that "the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term 'Mission Accomplished.'" He added that he knew the media would "seize" on the phrase, but said it should be used often. "It is such a great Military term, it should be brought back," he wrote.
Trump tweeted "Mission Accomplished" on Saturday after U.S., French and British warplanes and ships launched more than 100 missiles nearly unopposed by Syrian air defenses. While he declared success, the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses.
His choice of words recalled a similar claim associated with President George W. Bush following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Bush addressed sailors aboard a Navy ship in May 2003 alongside a "Mission Accomplished" banner, just weeks before it became apparent that Iraqis had organized an insurgency that would tie down U.S. forces for years.
Later Sunday, Trump sent a letter to congressional leaders informing them in writing of his decision to order the strike. Under the War Powers Resolution, the president must keep Congress informed of such actions.
Haley made clear the United States won't be pulling troops out of Syria right away, saying U.S. involvement there "is not done."
Haley said the three U.S. goals for accomplishing its mission are making sure chemical weapons are not used in a way that could harm U.S. national interests, defeating the Islamic State group and having a good vantage point to watch what Iran is doing.
"We're not going to leave until we know we've accomplished those things," she said.
Haley said the joint military strike "put a heavy blow into their chemical weapons program, setting them back years" and reiterated that if Assad uses poison gas again, "the United States is locked and loaded."
French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that France wants to launch a diplomatic initiative over Syria that would include Western powers, Russia and Turkey. Speaking on French television BFM and online site Mediapart, Macron stressed that the French diplomacy is able to talk with Iran, Russia and Turkey on one side and to the United States on the other side.
He said, "Ten days ago, President Trump wanted to withdraw from Syria. We convinced him to remain."
Asked about Macron's comments, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders stressed that Trump's plans for the region have not changed. In a statement, she said: "The U.S. mission has not changed — the President has been clear that he wants U.S. forces to come home as quickly as possible."
The nighttime assault on Syria was carefully limited to minimize civilian casualties and avoid direct conflict with Russia, but confusion arose over the extent to which Washington warned Moscow in advance. The Pentagon said it gave no explicit warning. The U.S. ambassador in Moscow, John Huntsman, said in a video, "Before we took action, the United States communicated with" Russia to "reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties."
Russia has military forces, including air defenses, in several areas of Syria to support Assad in his long war against anti-government rebels.
Russia and Iran called the use of force by the United States and its French and British allies a "military crime" and "act of aggression." The U.N. Security Council rejected a Russian resolution calling for condemnation of the "aggression" by the three Western allies.
Assad denies he has used chemical weapons, and the Trump administration has yet to present hard evidence of what it says precipitated the allied missiles attack: a chlorine gas attack on civilians April 7 in Douma. The U.S. says it suspects that sarin gas also was used.
"Good souls will not be humiliated," Assad tweeted while hundreds of Syrians gathered in Damascus, the capital, where they flashed victory signs and waved flags in scenes of defiance after the early morning barrage.
The strikes "successfully hit every target," said Dana W. White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman. The military said there were three targets: the Barzah chemical weapons research and development site in the Damascus area, a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs and a chemical weapons "bunker" a few miles from the second target.
Meanwhile, The leaders of Russia, Iran and the Hezbollah group in Lebanon said Sunday that Western airstrikes on their ally, Syria, have complicated prospects for a political settlement to the country's seven-year conflict.
A day after the U.S., Britain and France bombarded sites they said were linked to a chemical weapons program, Assad appeared briefly on state TV, seemingly unfazed by the military action — and even reportedly in high spirits.
Assad told a group of visiting Russian lawmakers that the strikes were accompanied by a campaign of "lies and misinformation" against Syria and Russia in the U.N. Security Council.
Moscow and Damascus are waging the same "battles" against terrorism and "to protect international law based on respect of the sovereignty of countries and the wills of people," Assad said in comments carried by state media, an apparent jab at the three Western allies.
Casper City Councilman Dallas Laird is interested in buying the vacant Grant Elementary and donating it to the Wyoming Rescue Mission, he said last week.
“I wanted to find out if it was worth buying and I wanted to see if somebody like the Rescue Mission would be able to run it for the homeless people,” he said. “That’s the idea behind it.”
Grant Elementary closed last June after 94 years as a Casper school. It and several other Natrona County School District buildings are slated for sale or demolition, and the district’s board held a public hearing last month to discuss the facilities. Officials’ plans for the buildings will now be sent to the state’s School Facilities Commission, which will approve or reject the district’s plan at its May meeting.
Laird said his plan is to buy the building and then donate it to an organization like the Rescue Mission for use as a homeless shelter. He said that, depending on the price, he may buy it himself.
Dennis Bay, the district’s executive director of business services, told the Star-Tribune that Grant has been appraised twice, per district policy. It’s valued at roughly $350,000. Officials have said in the past that Grant needs significant renovation work.
None of the other buildings that are slated for sale have been appraised. Last year, the school board sold the old Roosevelt High School building and the Fairgrounds Center.
Bay said Grant, located near 15th Street and Oakcrest Avenue, has received significant interest. He said a historical society and an individual looking at tearing it down and redeveloping it “into something” had contacted the district about the building.
Laird said he had approached school board chairwoman Rita Walsh about his interest in the building. He planned to discuss his plans during the public comment period at the school board’s next meeting.
“I think if it works, it’d be great,” he said. “A lot of ‘ifs, buts and what have you’ there.”