PINEDALE — A new citizen’s advisory group and voluntary emissions reduction by energy companies to combat high ozone levels in the Upper Green River Basin isn’t enough for some Pinedale residents.
Pinedale resident Elaine Crumpley said hearing what energy companies plan to do is encouraging, but not enough until they actually take action.
“I think it’s all hypothetical at this point,” she said.
Residents have sat through many meetings about ozone pollution and have seen few results, said Pinedale resident Mary Lynn Worl.
“It’s one thing to make a commitment on paper,” she said.
Both women are members of Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development, a group formed to address energy-industry pollution and effects on human health in the basin. They were among the estimated 50 people in attendance, including Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality staff, at a public meeting Tuesday night hosted by the DEQ.
Ozone has been a problem in the basin for several winters. Temperature inversions — cold air trapped by warmer air above — combined with sunshine reflected off ground snow can trigger atmospheric chain reactions that turn gas-development pollution into ozone.
Last winter, ozone levels in the area soared above levels normally seen in big cities during the summer. Levels in the basin even surpassed any seen in smoggy Los Angeles in all of 2010, and state officials urged schools to keep children indoors during recess. The elderly and people with respiratory conditions also were told to stay inside.
Some people complained of itchy eyes and nosebleeds.
The DEQ has set up a daily forecast that will inform people when conditions will be ripe for high ozone and when companies will need to scale back operations. The department has been working with Pinedale radio station KPIN to announce daily forecasts for ozone.
There have been no warnings for high ozone yet this winter.
The agency held Tuesday’s meeting to update citizens on efforts to reduce ozone levels in the basin.
Mike Shaffron from Encana Corp. offered an update on industry efforts to quickly reduce emissions. He said such companies as BP, Chevron, Exxon, Shell and Encana proposed ideas beyond basic ozone contingency plans.
“The question is, will it help?” he said.
There needs to be more accountability, said Crumpley. She suggested companies should be required to update equipment to make better use of the best available technology to reduce emissions.
This year, a lack of snow, a key component to winter ozone, has offered a reprieve from smog, Crumpley said. That hasn’t been the result of industry action, she said.
Worl said energy development happened too fast for the small town, and the issues about ozone go beyond just health. She said the air pollution causes stress and concern about the landscape, wildlife and the future of the town.
Crumpley said so much of Wyoming is governed on a seasonal basis, such as during the hunting season, that energy work could also be seasonal in order to avoid winter ozone.
Stephanie Kessler with the Wilderness Society began following the winter ozone issue in Sublette County several years ago. She said the DEQ has put forth a “good faith, aggressive effort” to mitigate air pollution.
But its efforts haven’t worked, she said. She wanted to know why all companies aren’t required to improve old facilities.
“All strategies have to be on the table,” she said.
The state formed a task force composed of 26 people representing town, county and state government; public health; the Bureau of Land Management; the U.S. Forest Service and citizens.
The group is expected to meet for the first time in February to consider potential solutions to ozone issues and offer reports, recommendations and initiatives that could help mitigation efforts, said Steven Dietrich, air quality administrator with the DEQ.
Dietrich also said ozone studies and monitoring of the area are ongoing.
Studies ranging from an epidemiological survey by the Wyoming Department of Health to a micro-scale wind survey by the University of Wyoming are helping gather data, he said.
The department is also working with energy companies, many of which have committed to expedited plans for early reduction of emissions.