DEQ releases ozone strategy for Sublette County

Mar 15, 2013

Emissions from drilling rigs and other production equipment can cause ozone to form.
Credit Willow Belden

BOB BECK: The Department of Environmental Quality has released a plan for tackling the ozone problem in Sublette County. Emissions from the energy industry there have combined to form a type of pollution called ozone, which can be a health hazard. Ozone levels have been so high that they violate federal standards, and the Environmental Protection Agency has given Wyoming three years to fix the problem.

WB: Last year, a task force of citizens, industry reps, and local leaders recommended solutions. Among other things, they called for tougher regulations on industry and more research into the science behind ozone formation. Earlier this year the DEQ met with the task force to respond to the recommendations. But many felt the plans they laid out at the meeting were not concrete enough. Since then, DEQ has been working to draft a more specific strategy. This week, they released that strategy. I spoke with DEQ’s Air Quality Administrator, Steve Dietrich, to get the details. He says they’ll continue to encourage energy companies to take voluntary measures to limit the types of emissions that cause ozone, but they also hope to impose a number of new rules. First, they’d like to put stricter limits on emissions from new production equipment.

STEVE DIETRICH: Rather than have controls requirements happen after startup of the facility or the area where the well drilling and well production happens, it would have to be in place upon startup of those facilities. … It would have to be cleaner, sooner.

BELDEN: Dietrich says they also want to take steps to reduce emissions from older equipment. That’s equipment that’s operating perfectly legally, but is polluting more than newer equipment because it was installed prior to the current emissions rules. Dietrich says they’re starting a process that will let them look at options for retrofitting or replacing those older facilities.

DIETRICH: It allows us to re-examine, if you will, permits – permitted facilities … to revisit what control measures can be put in place to reduce emissions further from those existing operating facilities.

BELDEN: Wyoming has different standards for the energy industry, depending on where the drilling is happening. For example, in the Jonah field, which is part of the area that’s experiencing ozone spikes, there are stricter emissions requirements than elsewhere in the state.

DIETRICH:  What we’re trying to do is to expand those requirements to all of the nonattainment area.

BELDEN: As in, all of area where ozone levels violate federal standards.

Dietrich says new rules they’re creating may seem extra strict. But that’s because they’re taking into consideration future development in the area.

DIETRICH: You want to allow new growth, but you need to be cognizant of what those new emissions would be. And so it may be that you want to reduce emissions further to allow for that new growth and thereby still be able to attain the standard in the future.

BELDEN: Dietrich says as they move forward with new rules and initiatives, they’ll revise their ozone strategy.

DIETRICH: This plan is just a start. … It’s an evolving document. It evolves because the results we see with some of our earlier efforts may have a direct impact on what we need to do in the future, but also we may get other requirements that EPA hasn’t come out with yet. So we have to be flexible enough with this plan that it can evolve with those new requirements.

BELDEN: DEQ plans to begin the rule-making processes within the next six months. In the meantime, the agency is designating an ozone point person, who will be in charge of answering questions and taking input from the public about the ozone problem. That person will be announced next week.

See the full text of DEQ’s ozone strategy