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Ad Hoc Report Revives Ozone Debate in Wyoming

Progress is being made in combating ozone at new oil/gas drilling sites in the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming, but older sites are being left to pollute, according to an ad hoc report by a small number of a 28-member governor's task force that was disbanded two years ago.

The minority report comes a year after an air quality citizens advisory task force, which was appointed by Gov. Matt Mead, made its recommendations for addressing the ozone problem. The recommendations were adopted by the state's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The task force was disbanded following submittal of the proposed mitigation steps (see Daily GPI, Sept. 24, 2012).

Before the task force and the DEQ's effort with the recommendations, environmental groups had threatened lawsuits to get the drilling emissions stopped (see Daily GPI, Oct. 5, 2011). The groups' focus is on the Pinedale area in Sublette County in the far western portion of the state.

During Mead's initial months in office in 2011, there were six smog alerts before the end of March for the Pinedale natural gas production area (see Daily GPI, March 15, 2011). Mead, major producers and the DEQ worked to address a six-year-old air quality attainment issue that had seemed to be in remission over the previous two years (2009-2010).

An inquiry to the governor's office by NGI drew no immediate response on Thursday.

Earlier this month, an ad hoc progress report by seven of the task force's members largely representing environmental groups and concerned citizens has concluded the DEQ has not done much to lessen the ozone coming from the established well sites.

A spokesperson for Encana Corp.'s operations in the area told NGI the company had no comment. An Encana representative was one of the 28 members on the task force.

Steve Dietrich, DEQ's air quality administrator, told local news media that the state agency is moving ahead with new regulations to address emissions from existing facilities.

A Sublette County elected commissioner and former ozone task force member, Andy Nelson, told local news media he thinks the state is making progress and there is no quick fix. He urged patience and understanding that it is a long process.

"Everyone would like to see all the solutions right now," Nelson said in a state online publication. "But you have to go through the process. It is a painstaking process, and it does take time."

Noting that the state still has a long way to go, Bruce Pendery, a staff attorney with the Wyoming Outdoor Council and a former task force member, said the purpose of the latest progress report was to let people know "there are citizens who were involved in the process who remain deeply interested, and we want to see progress made."

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