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BLM Says New Pinedale Wells May Increase Pollution

March 31, 2008
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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposal to allow more natural gas drilling in Wyoming's Pinedale Anticline actually would create more air pollution than would be permitted under recently announced federal air quality standards, according to the federal agency's internal projections.

BLM issued a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) last year that proposed allowing 4,400 new gas wells to be drilled in the Pinedale Anticline in Sublette County, WY (see NGI, Sept. 3, 2007). However, according to BLM computer models, the additional wells would result in ozone concentrations of about 77 parts/billion (p/b). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this month revised its air quality standard for ozone, which stated that the high end of an ozone average over an eight-hour period could not exceed 75 p/b. An eight-hour average exceeding 75 p/b would be considered out of attainment under federal rules.

EPA earlier this year had criticized the BLM's SEIS for the Anticline, citing deficiencies in the analysis on how development would impact air quality and groundwater (see NGI, Feb. 25). Also troubling are the ozone advisories issued in the past few months -- including two just last week -- in the Sublette County area by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ). The advisories are said to be tied to energy development already under way in the Upper Green River Basin.

Paul Matheny, a regional vice president with Questar Exploration and Production Co., told Wyoming's Casper Star-Tribune that BLM's air modeling was "by necessity simplified," and only took into account reductions in emissions that would result from implementing cleaner rigs. Once year-round access to the drilling area is approved, Questar and other producers operating on the Anticline plan to implement strategies to reduce air emissions that aren't included in BLM's air quality models, he said.

"There's a bunch of emissions reductions not included in the model," Matheny told the Star-Tribune. "And the sooner we can complete the (environmental analysis of proposed year-round drilling), the sooner the modifications can be implemented that will result in improved air quality.

"The ability of the operators to commit their contractors to invest the big capital required to make those changes relies on their ability to have year-round access," Matheny said. "If the rig has to go away at the end of the summer, it can't stay year-round, and there's no guarantee it'll be back next year -- you can't go and spend $2 million to modify a rig that you may never see again."

Dennis Korycinski, the BLM air quality specialist for Wyoming, said the agency is working with EPA to address all of its concerns.

"The EPA, WDEQ and BLM are involved in rather intensive discussions and negotiations," Korycinski said. "And it would be inappropriate for me to speculate at this time on how that may turn out. We are working cooperatively on behalf of the public, and we're well aware of the concerns that are out there."

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