Long familiar in major urban areas, smog – what we experts call “ground-level ozone” pollution – is quickly becoming a serious problem in the rural mountain west, thanks to rapid expansion in oil and gas development. Smog can cause serious health impacts like aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, and even premature death. In areas like the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming, smog levels have sometimes rivaled those in Los Angeles.
Now, the Environmental Protection Agency and several western states are putting the pieces in place to fix this problem: EPA through proposed revisions to the health-based ozone standard that will better protect people from pollution, and states like Wyoming and Colorado through strong policies that are helping to reduce the sources of ozone pollution in the oil and gas industry.
In official public comments filed this week with EPA, EDF and a broad coalition of western environmental and conservation groups supported a more protective ozone standard and pointed out the importance of this issue to the intermountain west–where most of the country’s oil and gas production from federal lands occurs.
Wyoming has a long history of living with the oil and gas industry that goes back to the nineteenth century, but that doesn’t mean that new drilling projects in new parts of the state don’t get the public’s attention. New neighbors are always a source of local interest and an approach to air quality regulations that includes different requirements for different parts of the state can lead local residents to ask what new oil and gas development will mean for their neighborhoods, for their air, and for their quality of life.
If the robust turnout of several hundred people at two recent public meetings in Laramie and Converse counties is any indication, there is significant interest in how potentially rapid oil and gas development could impact local communities. Read More
How do you detect a colorless, odorless gas? It’s an important question especially when that invisible gas is as damaging as what comprises oil and gas pollution. We are talking about hazardous air pollutants (benzene), ozone precursors (volatile organic compounds), and greenhouse gases like methane – a gas that is more than 80 times more damaging than carbon dioxide to the climate in the short term.
Widely available tools like infrared cameras and hand-held hydrocarbon detectors are very effective at detecting leaks from oil and gas equipment, but new technologies and new science are always welcome.
That’s what makes a new paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology exciting. Led by experts from EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and co-authored by EDF’s David Lyon, this study uses a new technique to identify and measure methane emissions at oil and gas facilities.
Late last week Wyoming air regulators took a second crack at a proposed rule to fix a serious ozone pollution problem in the state’s Upper Green River Basin. To use a baseball analogy, this rule designed to reduce pollution from the oil and gas industry, is a solid double.
This proposal improves upon a version released in June. The updated rule extends inspection requirements to compressor stations to capture more of the leaks that create air pollution and the methane that is the industry’s main product. And it eliminates provisions that—in some cases–would have allowed companies to remove certain devices from well sites that we know reduce pollution.
Both changes are improvements that EDF and local allies have advocated for and the Mead Administration deserves praise for leadership in this area. Once finalized and implemented, this rule will form the backbone of the state’s plan to clean up the air in and around Pinedale, Wyoming, that has become dangerously polluted by harmful emissions from the oil and gas industry. Read More
One of the most difficult and urgent challenges facing Western leaders today is how best to regulate the oil and gas development that is quickly spreading to new areas and encroaching on towns and homes.
Last weekend, The Casper Star-Tribune covered this very topic as oil and gas drilling, once mostly confined to less populated parts of the state, begins to expand into areas near Cheyenne and close by northeastern towns like Douglas that have not experienced this new neighbor before.
This same friction is fueling a rancorous political debate in Colorado, pitting industry against citizens who want their local governments to have more control over oil and gas development. But as the Star-Tribune’s Ben Storrow points out in his column, this isn't the Wyoming way. Read More
Yesterday we explored how Wyoming regulators and Governor Mead are making progress on a set of potentially strong air pollution measures in Pinedale and across the Upper Green River Basin of Southwestern Wyoming.
But today a similar drilling boom is happening in Converse and Campbell counties in the northeast area of the state. Unfortunately, none of these strong, sensible new air pollution requirements apply in these areas.
The numbers are stark. A full 80 percent of the current drilling in Wyoming is occurring out in the part of the state with the least restrictive air quality controls. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is currently beginning a process to consider as many as 5,000 new oil and gas wells in Converse County alone, and equal or greater drilling activity is expected in neighboring Campbell County over the next decade.