No one who participated in the eight-month effort to find ways to reduce air pollution in the Pinedale area was likely satisfied with all of the recommendations.
But that’s the nature of collaborative solutions. The 26 members of the task force represented many diverse interests, including the oil and gas industry, county and city government officials, the governor’s office, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, environmental groups and local citizens.
At the end of the process, the Upper Green River Basin Air Quality Citizens Advisory Task Force developed many ideas that the Wyoming DEQ should give serious consideration.
The willingness of the task force members to sit in the same room and hammer out a set of recommendations over the course of six public meetings should be praised by all of Wyoming. It’s an excellent example of how some environmental problems can be attacked head-on without automatically resorting to litigation or heavy-handed regulation.
Instead of being tied up in court for years, there’s now a good chance that most of the group’s advice can be implemented by state regulators working with industry and concerned citizens.
As a show of the effort’s success, we point to two endorsements by members who started with very different agendas.
Bruce Pendery, program director of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said while some provisions could have been stronger, the fact that such disparate interest groups and individuals “were able to reach consensus recommendations is somewhat remarkable.”
He noted that industry representatives supported overall strong protections for air quality, which Pendery called a “significant” step.
Craig Brown, a senior engineer for QEP Resources, an active producer in the Pinedale area, told Star-Tribune energy reporter Adam Voge that the task force “made significant progress” in addressing wintertime ozone levels in the basin.
Levels of ozone, also called smog, have been especially high in recent winters, driven in large part by emissions from natural gas and oil drilling in the Pinedale Anticline and Jonah fields. Temperature inversions — when cold air is trapped by warm air from above — can trap volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide in the valley.
Because ozone is widely known to cause a host of respiratory problems, Pendery said the levels in the Upper Green River Basin must be reduced to protect the public’s health. On several occasions, residents in the Pinedale area have been advised by the Environmental Protection Agency not to go outside because of the high ozone levels.
The task force asked the DEQ to control air pollution from existing oil and gas stationary sources, including currently unregulated oil and gas industry air pollution sources.
The recommendations call for the reduction of nitrogen oxide air pollution — a key component in ozone formation — from all drilling rigs and completion/hydraulic fracturing operations. Leak detection and repair standards should also be developed, the task force said.
The report said ozone monitoring, inventory and air quality modeling should be improved, with the information made available to the public. The group recommended that some of the provisions be accompanied by a phase-in period, with incentives offered to accelerate emissions reductions.
Industry already has a good incentive to reduce ozone levels, since its non-attainment of national ozone standards has resulted in the EPA giving the oil and gas industry until the end of 2015 to come back into compliance. If it doesn’t, even more severe pollution controls could be required under the Clean Air Act.
It would be much better for everyone in the Pinedale area for the DEQ to adopt the task force’s reasonable recommendations to reduce ozone instead of relying on a federal agency to enforce stricter pollution controls. This is a problem diverse Wyoming interests came together to work out, and they were up to the task.