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Task force defines Ozone objectives

Posted: Monday, May 14th, 2012

SUBLETTE COUNTY – A little more than a week after the Environmental Protection Agency informed the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that Sublette County is a “non-attainment” area for violating federal air quality standards, the DEQ’s special task force on ozone convened for the third time to address the problem.

The DEQ’s Upper Green River Basin (UGRB) Citizens Advisory Task Force (task force) met Wednesday for a workshop, hearing two presentations and breaking into work groups to focus in on the issues at hand. The meeting was facilitated by Steve Smutko and Elizabeth Spaulding of the University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute.

The task force, made up of 26 UGRB residents, air quality experts, environmentalists and oil and gas industry representatives, was assembled in February to address air quality issues in Sublette and parts of Lincoln and Sweetwater counties. Led by DEQ Director John Corra, the task force has so far labored over what its scope and authority will be.

Wednesday, Smutko and Spaulding directed their concentration toward identifying

objectives and interests.

Before breaking into work groups, the task force heard a presentation on its Joint Fact Finding (JFF) document, a requirement identified in its charter. The presentation was compiled by the technical subcommittee of Craig Brown, Carmel Kail, Tom Monahan, Rod Rozier and Hank Williams, with direction from scientific advisers.

The subcommittee reported that the JFF was just returned from an adviser and was not ready for the task force to adopt, but members did present some findings. According to its presentation, the oil and gas industry is responsible for 60 percent of NOx (nitrous oxides) and 94 percent of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), two precursors known to cause harmful ozone levels.

Corra added that there was debate on these figures at previous meetings. Task force members responded to the presentation with questions on the validity and accuracy of the emission inventory numbers in the presentation and JFF.

Dave Hohl, a Pinedale town councilman, was the first to voice a concern with the findings. After a lengthy debate on how the statistics were gathered, Encana representative Mike Shaffron asked that the task force be willing to accept the numbers as presented.

“I think we need to have some level of comfort that the emission inventory numbers that we’re trying to base decisions on are reasonably representative – they don’t have to be 100-percent accurate,” Shaffron said.

Corra agreed, adding that task force members are welcome to join his staff to analyze the numbers on their own time.

Prior to the meeting, task force members completed worksheets identifying their personal or professional interests in the air quality discussion. During the meeting, the members split into four small groups to begin identifying the context of these interests and how they fit into the authority of agencies involved in air quality work. The groups considered the scope of the DEQ’s authority and their own ability to make recommendations to oil and gas operators in generating their objectives.

Smutko identified the consistent points in the groups’ discussions after they shared with the task force as a whole. Their objectives were, as Smutko said, to make sure to do what they could within the DEQ’s authority while also exploring voluntary actions by operators to reduce emissions. Some groups focused on air quality as a whole, while others specified reducing precursors (NOx and VOCs) as their main objective.

Smutko led the groups into a second round of small-group work, this time aiming to generate practical options that will later become recommendations. The groups produced about 30 options that they presented to the task force as a whole. Again, different groups found different focuses – some zeroed in on heavy equipment and drilling practices to reduce precursors while others suggested centralized facilities and improved ozone detection.

“What can we really do to achieve those objectives?” asked Smutko after the options were shared. He recommended that task force members meet in like groups before their next workshop and start making concrete recommendations at that meeting, scheduled for May 30.

Several task force members expressed their concern that the group would not be ready to make recommendations by May 30, which will be their fourth meeting. Some said they needed more time to relate the task force’s work to their home organizations or people they represent.

Corra responded that the fourth meeting would not be the task force’s last as originally scheduled.

“It’s clear that four meetings are not enough. … We can do another meeting. What we can’t do is an infinite number of meetings every four to six weeks,” he said.

Though specific goals are not yet identified for ozone emission reduction, the task force members agreed that the EPA’s federal guidelines for air quality would serve as a base objective. Sublette was listed as a non-attainment area on April 30.

The task force will meet next on Wednesday, May 30, at 5 p.m. at Rendezvous Pointe. The session is open to public observation. Meeting information and the task force member list is available at http://deq.state.wy.


For the complete article see the 05-15-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 05-15-2012 paper.

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