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AQ task force presents ozone consensus

Posted: Monday, Sep 24th, 2012

The 26-member Upper Green River Basin air quality task force that tackled the job of drafting – and agreeing on – air quality recommendations to reduce harmful ozone levels for the Upper Green River Basin presented its final draft Wednesday, Sept. 19.

The final draft results were heralded by many (including Gov. Matt Mead) – along with the painstaking and sometimes fractious process of merging 26 individual minds toward a common goal.

The Upper Green River Basin Air Quality Citizens Advisory Task Force (task force) was formed after the public and Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and other agency officials decided an advisory committee might yield solid results.

The task force included local residents, town, city and county governments, the oil and gas industry, DEQ, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, public health groups and the Governor’s Office. The University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources offered the two facilitators.

Sublette County and surrounding areas with intense oil and gas development have suffered higher than permissible ozone levels from engines and operations emissions, usually in winter, and therefore the county is listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as “nonattainment.” High levels of ozone can cause or exacerbate health problems, especially with breathing.

The final draft lists detailed suggestions to improve management of ozone action days, existing stationary emission sources, non-road mobile exploration and production emission sources, leak detection and repair, produced water and storage, monitoring and reporting and strengthen DEQ involvement in the monitor process.

The draft report refers back to 63 options the task force presented July 18.

Meeting of the minds

Ruckelshaus task force facilitators Elizabeth Spaulding and Steven Smutko started by interviewing the people asking to serve on the advisory committee. Smutko acknowledged in an email Friday it was not a simple process from the beginning.

“In our discussions with people about air quality issues in the Upper Green River Basin, we discovered three important attributes that eventually shaped the process going forward,” Smutko said.

“First, we learned that there was significant divergence in the way that people perceived the problem and potential solutions.

The next point was that some stakeholders didn’t trust the others to “do the right thing.”

“… Their lack of trust in government and industry to do the right thing was going to be a challenge in fostering open and honest communication among task force members,” he said.

Yet everyone on the task force held a genuine desire to be there, Smutko explained.

“Third, and this is the most important discovery, we learned that people on all sides of the issue were sincere in their willingness to find a way to work together to solve the problem,” he said.

Meet in the middle

Some task force members felt the process start off quickly and have a list of solutions within one or two meetings, but Smutko and Spaulding had them set guidelines and build a framework for a more productive collaborative decision-making process.

First, members needed to set ground rules for what they wanted to accomplish and how they would “interact” when negotiating solutions, Smutko said. Then they had to “clarify and define the issues … (and) clearly identify what is important to them and their constituents. … They have to generate options that satisfy their own interests and the interests of the other parties, and they have to take the time to evaluate those options and select the best of the lot.”

Facilitators provided a joint fact-finding scientific document about ozone formation and transport in the Upper Green River Basin, Smutko said, which “headed off a lot of debate about the problem that they were tasked to solve.”

The consensus for the final draft presented last week is not the end of the Upper Green’s ozone issues, he added. “People will need to keep avenues open for

dialogue and more give and take. I think that folks in Sublette County are well prepared for that.”

DEQ Director John Corra, who attended the public meetings with staff, said the next step is to review the recommendations.

“The recognition by all stakeholders that the ozone problems in the Upper Green must be addressed provided the common ground and the energy for an excellent collaborative process,” Corra said in a statement Thursday. “The agency is pleased to receive these recommendations and will evaluate them over the next few months.”

Gov. Mead weighed in with his congratulations Thursday.

“The members of the task force brought different perspectives and came together in a productive manner. I appreciate the many hours they contributed to this important issue,” he said. “I look forward to the DEQ’s analysis of their recommendations.”

In the details

The report’s last recommendations are extremely important to many in the county: It says the DEQ should work with others to improve monitoring, inventory and ozone modeling systems and process

Each of the final draft recommendations says: “Use incentives to accelerate emissions reduction.” Recommendations also include promoting and requiring ozone action days for all operators, as well as reducing emissions from stationary sources such as dehydration units, storage tanks, pumps, venting and blowdown. Phased-in approaches are suggested to reduce NOx ozone emissions from drill rigs, completions and hydraulic fracturing engines, non-emergency generators; to monitor “fugitive VOC (volatile organic compounds) emission” from leaks; and to evaluate and “quantify” emissions from open evaporation and produced water ponds, to name several.

The complete recommendations are available at http://deq.state.wy.us/.

For the complete article see the 09-25-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 09-25-2012 paper.

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