Two Wyoming counties have been given failing and “D” grades for their air quality in the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2013” report. It said that while air quality overall my be improving nationwide, that is not the case in Wyoming.
The association report gives Sublette County an “F” for ozone pollution, or smog, as part of its annual grading of counties nationally. Large-scale oil and natural gas drilling is considered a “significant” source of ozone pollution.
While it is hard to pinpoint specific percentages, both Wyoming state officials and the lung association agree that the oil/gas drilling is the main source of the pollution. Leaky natural gas equipment at drill sites is attributed to much of the local pollution, according to environmental groups citing the lung association report.
Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has a three-year (through 2015) strategy for addressing ozone, and specifically eliminating Sublette County’s nonattainment status, a DEQ spokesperson told NGI on Friday. The state agency has scheduled a meeting for May 9 to examine the post-winter ozone season for this year, he said.
One of the advocates for more action, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, has given the DEQ credit for pursuing 10 task force recommendations aimed at the problem. “But the devil is in the details,” said the council’s Bruce Pendery. “It’s essential that DEQ implement these steps as quickly as possible.”
DEQ in March announced its strategy to address air pollution in the Pinedale area, which includes Sublette and Fremont counties. It is based mostly on recommendations from a citizens advisory task force.
Noting that winter ozone is different than the urban variety that air quality officials have been dealing with for decades, DEQ’s Keith Guille said, “there were no ‘models,’ nothing on the shelf for us. We have been working with the industry and the general public and others to better understand how the ozone develops, and from our perspective we obviously are focused on reducing emissions.”
The American Lung Association stresses that ozone is a toxic air pollutant widely known to cause a host of respiratory problems in even low concentrations. It also cited the Wyoming Department of Health as verifying that more Sublette County residents seek medical help for respiratory ailments on days with higher ozone pollution levels.
Although the lung organization offered the “D” grade for Fremont County, Guille said he is not clear what monitors they are using and how the designation for high levels of ozone was attached to this jurisdiction. “Several days of high ozone levels in the previous year” were cited by the lung association.
“I don’t know what levels they are using, but I know Fremont County is not in a ‘nonattainment’ status,” Guille said. He added that DEQ reviewed the lung association findings on Fremont and did not agree with them since the organization uses a different methodology than the national standards for pollution measurement, allowing naturally occurring quantities of ozone to be counted and thus inflating the totals.
Pendery called the lung association’s report “a sharp reminder that Pinedale’s ozone problem is a public health issue that can and should be corrected as soon as possible.”
DEQ does not directly regulate drilling rig emissions because they are categorized as off-road mobile sources of air pollution, Guille said, but the oil and natural gas industry has voluntarily put on better controls and switched to operating on gas, rather than diesel, in some cases.
“It is in everybody’s interest to reduce the ozone levels and bring this area back into attainment,” Guille said. “We’ve been able to work with the industry to voluntarily put on better controls; and one group switched everything to natural gas.”
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