The Sublette County Commissioners advised a University of Wyoming (UW) scientist at their meeting Tuesday on a number of strategies they think would be useful to determine which kind of winter ozone study should be conducted in the near future.
Alyssa Wechsler, a UW Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center (WSAC) assistant research scientist, said she received her undergraduate degree from UW, where she became aware of developmental and environmental issues in this area. But she didn’t hear about Sublette County’s ozone issue until she was completing her Master’s degree in England at Oxford University.
“Thought it was quite an interesting situation that there would be this international media basically about some rural Wyoming county and ozone,” she said, explaining that now working with WYSAC – which focuses on public health survey and social science research, but is looking to move into environmental realms – she saw an opportunity to combine such issues in a study that might be useful to others.
Already approved for a basic research grant through the UW College of Arts and Sciences – so far funded with $6,000 – she is conducting a research-needs assessment throughout this area, meeting with people such as Pinedale Medical Clinic’s Dr. James Quirk, CURED’s Elaine Crumpley, Upper Green River Alliance’s (UGRA) Linda Baker, industry personnel and the county commissioners to decide what study she will pursue.
“I didn’t want to come in as the researcher and say, ‘Thou shalt be researched in this way,’” she said. “I wanted to get this feedback from the community on what questions they wanted answered and then kind of identify what data would need to be collected to address some of those needs, and what gaps there might be in that data.”
One possibility she has considered, though she is still in the reconnaissance phases of her mission, is a comparative study of a location with similar geography to determine if the ozone problem is a natural occurrence or industry based, which she said Encana had mentioned as being of potential interest. Others include a public health survey, or something that might explore the public’s understanding and perceptions of ozone.
Commissioner Joel Bousman advised Wechsler to look at results of the health risk assessment commissioned by the county in conjunction with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the public meetings that resulted from it.
“Concentrate on something that will help solve the issue and lead to a lowering of the ozone, bottom line,” he advised Wechsler, adding that research on limiting factors in the formation of ozone – “Is it VOCs? A specific VOC? Is it NOx?” – would be of use in helping Sublette County drop the upcoming “nonattainment” status designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“If we can reduce emissions we can help address the health risk, period,” he said.
Commissioner John Linn advised her to stay away from public meetings with his concerns it would lead to one-sidedness.
“(They are) concerned people, don’t get me wrong. It would just be so lopsided,” he said.
Wechsler said she favors more of an invitation-only, “world café style” meeting with representatives from multiple groups, and is considering which stakeholders might be good to invite; she was looking to the commissioners for help in that mission.
Linn continued to advise her to take on a study that could determine if ozone is due to emissions from energy companies or is a “natural phenomenon.”
“We may have had an ozone issue in this county for 50 years and didn’t realize it,” Linn said. “I mean we’ve had oil and gas activity between Big Piney and La Barge for 60 or 70 years. Could’ve been that we had maybe a smaller ozone issue, but it could’ve been there all the time or maybe it’s coming in from upwind sources.”
He added that he has struggled with the suddenness of the ozone occurrences.
“Maybe we had ‘em, we were just not monitoring them. Or they were just recently discovered,” Linn said.
Commissioner Andy Nelson had a different request, saying he would like to know the “true and actual physiological effects of ozone,” citing nosebleeds as something he thinks might have many different sources.
“When you look into medical aspects, there are no real good answers,” he said.
Wechsler disagreed, saying that the general consensus is that the medical facet of ozone is well documented.
“It’s not a question on if ozone has an effect or even what the effect is, but rather, where its coming from so if you want to be able to decrease it – how do you go about doing that? And if it is in an area, how do you minimize exposure,” she said.
She added that she heard the DEQ is already trying to help with educating on high ozone circumstances, through Ozone Action Days, emailed forecasts and radio announcements.
Still, Nelson disagreed.
“I don’t believe that the medical information is that well established,” he said. “I have not read any studies, have no seen any reports that can quantify the effects of ozone and at what level. Is it because of emissions or is it because you’re standing at the top of Fremont Peak? Honestly, there’s not that good of information.”
Linn joked that ozone does cause a lot of meetings.
“Headaches, yes. I’ll agree with you there,” said Nelson.
Wechsler continued on to ask if the commissioners thought the nonattinment designation has affected people’s perceptions of ozone in the county and of the industry.
They commissioners informed her that yes, they believe it has had an effect, which includes daily scrutiny from different groups throughout the county.
“Wyoming DEQ is coming to realize how this ozone nonttainment can hurt the economy,” said Bousman, advising Wechsler that he thinks a study of the combined information from the DEQ and industry would be a useful summary.
“Have put a lot of effort into trying to figure out what can be done to get on top of the issue so we don’t limit the ability to develop, period,” he said. “It’s a priority for the state of Wyoming. The expertise in my view rests within the DEQ industry itself. They’re putting a lot of effort into expertise because they realize how important it is to be able to address those issues.”
All agreed any study that might guide energy producers and constituents toward a solution would be beneficial.
“This has all given me a lot to think about,” said Wechsler, who estimated the majority of her work will occur within the next five months and that she will distribute the results to the commissioners once her research is completed.
The next commissioner’s meeting is Feb. 21 in the commissioners’ meeting room of the Sublette County Courthouse.For the complete article see the 02-14-2012 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 02-14-2012 paper.
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