CHEYENNE — With new air quality regulations looming for the Pinedale region, Bureau of Land Management officials are hoping they won’t have to start tracking emissions from an often-overlooked source: local livestock.
Starting next month, the Environmental Protection Agency will designate the Upper Green River valley as being in “nonattainment” of federal ozone standards, because of natural gas drilling and production in the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields. In response, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality is drafting an implementation plan to address the air quality concerns.
But once that state plan is enacted, the BLM will have to account for expected emissions from all of its activities in the area, no matter how insignificant. And that’s where the cows come in.
The BLM’s Pinedale field office leases about 912,000 acres of grazing land for cattle. The EPA estimates a cow emits an average of 80 to 110 kilograms of methane, an ozone-causing gas, per year.
That means even a large herd of cattle only emits a fraction of the ozone-causing gases released by oil and gas drilling.
On top of that, the Pinedale BLM office doesn’t even allow cattle grazing during the winter months, which is when ozone levels reach worrisome levels, said Shane DeForest, the BLM’s Pinedale field office manager.
Even so, once the state implementation plan takes effect, the BLM would have to find out exactly how many cattle are munching grass on federal land – and how much methane they subsequently release.
Such a task wouldn’t threaten any grazing permits or impair the process to improve air quality, said Charis Tuers, the Wyoming BLM’s state air resource coordinator.
But what it would mean, she said, is a lot of unnecessary work for state BLM staff.
“We would have to identify the acreage of these leasing parcels, the number of cattle occupying these parcels. We would have to calculate and develop an estimate of the emissions,” Tuers said. “It’d just be more of an additional workload for us here.”
Last week BLM officials asked the Wyoming DEQ about how best to deal with the problem, Tuers said. Ideally, she said, the DEQ would issue a waiver exempting cattle emissions in the area.
But DEQ Director John Corra said he wasn’t sure if his agency was even allowed to issue such an exemption.
DEQ staff members haven’t yet reached any conclusions about what to do, Corra said, though he said several Pinedale-area ranchers who graze on BLM land have asked the agency to make a decision quickly.
“Many stakeholders have questions about it,” Corra said. “And so we’re moving on it.”
But DEQ Air Quality Administrator Steven Dietrich said BLM and DEQ officials need to work through a “voluminous” list of BLM land uses — including oil and gas leasing and drilling — to ensure they’ll conform to the state’s implementation plan. Cattle grazing, he said, is “just one” of those issues.
And despite the time crunch, Dietrich said they want to make sure they don’t hurry through the process.
“Being that this nonattainment process, along with conformity, is new to everybody here in Wyoming,” Dietrich said, “we’re trying to make sure we’re smart about our decisions, rather than hastily make decisions.”