It was standing room only at the Wright Public Library last night as residents packed into a hearing about a nearby project that would burn coal seams underground to produce synthesis gas or syngas.
Linc Energy’s proposed underground coal gasification project has been in the works for years, but from the public testimony, many Wright residents were hearing about it for the first time. And they had lots of questions about the process, which has never been developed commercially.
We’ve reported often on the effects that energy production can have on air quality. The most obvious example is Pinedale, where federal ambient air quality standards were violated, largely because of emissions from natural gas production. Regulators say the air elsewhere in the state is fine. But some worry that Wyoming doesn’t have a sufficient monitoring network to know for sure. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.
Wyoming’s biggest export is soda ash, which comes from trona mines in Sweetwater County. Last year, the trona industry produced 17 million tons of soda ash for which the state received nearly $90 million in various taxes and royalties. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov report, the industry has a dirty side, too.
IRINA ZHOROV: Wyoming is used to superlatives. The biggest coal bed, the largest mine, the most wind! Here’s another:
[VIDEO PLAYING: The silver retreats of Wyoming, USA is home to the largest reserve of trona. ]
For many years, Wyoming lawmakers have been reluctant to impose new regulations on industry. At the national level, the congressional delegation has been highly critical anytime the Environmental Protection Agency proposes new regulations on energy production, saying that it costs jobs.
State leaders have echoed those statements, and over the years many legislators have even expressed concern about adding staff to the Department of Environmental Quality, fearing that it could lead to over regulation.
There are a number of contaminated sites across the state that are expensive to clean up. The contamination comes from a variety of sources including industrial sites and businesses that use chemicals.
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has decided to keep an air quality monitor in Converse County for another year.
DEQ placed a mobile monitor near Douglas after residents voiced concerns about emissions from new energy development in the area. So far, there’s no indication that air quality standards have been violated, but there were several days with high pollution levels.
Typically, DEQ moves their mobile air quality monitors to new locations each year, but the agency’s Cara Keslar says they want to keep a close eye on this area.
Ozone forecasting in Sublette County will begin again in January. Ozone is a hazardous gas that’s formed under certain conditions by the combination of volatile organic compounds and nitrous oxides. In recent years Sublette County has seen spikes in ozone during wintertime, particularly on days with no wind, lots of sunlight and snow on the ground.
Pollutants have been showing up in water wells in the Pinedale Anticline gas field since 2006. Until recently, no one knew where the contamination was coming from. Now, the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Environmental Quality have released a report indicating that most of the problem was not caused by energy production. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.
It would cost at least $4.5 million dollars for Wyoming to take over regulatory control of the uranium and thorium mining industries from the federal government, according to a new feasibility study from the Department of Environmental Quality.
Deputy Director Nancy Nuttbrock says that estimate only takes into account the six years it would take to get the program running -- not it’s actual operations.
Frustrated landowners in Converse County sat down last week with a company that’s proposing to build a natural gas processing facility outside of Douglas to discuss alternative locations for the plant.
Crestwood Midstream Access’ plant would be situated in a largely agricultural area, and nearby ranchers have protested, saying it would be better to group it with existing industrial development.
But there are no land use regulations in Converse County, so rancher Art Nicholas proposed a trade: a parcel of his land south of the city in exchange for the site.
A project that proposes setting fire to deep coal seams in order to produce fuel is moving forward. At a hearing last week, the Environmental Quality Council rejected arguments that Linc Energy’s proposed underground coal gasification project would contaminate drinking water supplies in Campbell County. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, concerns linger about the safety of the technology.
The Department of Environmental Quality says it’s not clear whether they will continue monitoring air quality in Converse County after this year.
DEQ began the monitoring about a year ago, because of public concern about emissions from oil and gas development. So far, their data does not indicate any violations of air quality standards but there have been several days with high pollution levels. The agency’s Cara Keslar says they’ll probably move the monitoring station to another location after they’ve collected a full year of data.
Douglas residents are concerned about emissions from a proposed natural gas processing plant on the outskirts of town. Texas-based Crestwood Midstream Partners’ Douglas facility would process 120 million cubic feet of raw natural gas per day. Residents wrote to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, worried about carbon dioxide and formaldehyde emissions, among other things.
Cole Anderson is in charge of Wyoming’s air quality permitting process. He says the DEQ has reviewed the company’s proposed emissions, and found them to meet state standards.
The Park County Board of Commissioners is concerned that its decision to comply with statewide environmental standards by building a new lined landfill cell will continue to take a financial toll on the County if the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality doesn’t act soon.
In order to renew their permits, the DEQ has required operators to prove their landfills aren’t leaking, or to build a leak-resistant lined landfill cell, or move their trash somewhere that’s leak-resistant. Park County built a new lined cell at the Cody landfill.
As the state is considering how to shut down many outdated landfills across the state, there’s also a push underway to prevent more waste from going into landfills in the first place. A study from earlier this year shows just 19 percent of municipal solid waste is recycled or composted in the state, putting Wyoming on par with the national average in the early 1990s.
As the state initiates its investigation of water quality issues in Pavillion, two state agencies plan to review existing data before deciding how to proceed. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the Department of Environmental Quality will look at the well bore integrity of about 50 oil and gas wells within a quarter mile of 14 domestic water wells that had at least one pollutant at levels above drinking water standards.
The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission says it hopes to file a report about well bore integrity in Pavillion by the end of the year.
The report will be part of a larger effort to figure out the causes of groundwater contamination in Pavillion. The study will include a total of about 50 oil and gas exploration and production wells located within a quarter mile of 14 domestic water wells.
The Interstate Mining Compact Commission is recognizing two Wyoming mines for their reclamation efforts. The IMCC represents environmental protection interests and awards one non-coal and one coal project each year. The M-I SWACO Bentonite Mine in Big Horn County won the non-coal award and the Bridger Coal Mine received honorable mention in the coal category.
Department of Environmental Quality spokesman, Keith Guille, says the IMCC only gives two awards each year and it’s significant that Wyoming was recognized for both.
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.
Last year, a task force of citizens, energy industry reps, and local leaders got together to tackle the ozone problem in Sublette County. They came up with a list of recommendations for the Department of Environmental Quality. Among other things, they called for tougher regulations on industry and more rigorous air quality monitoring. In January, the Department of Environmental Quality met with the task force to discuss how they would respond to the recommendations. They said nothing was off the table, but that some recommendations could take a long time to implement.
Lower Valley Energy, a utility company, and the Department of Environmental Quality have entered the settlement process over a non-compliant part at their natural gas compressor station in Sublette County. The DEQ discovered the infraction during a routine inspection last October, and issued a notice of violation this January. According to their permit, the station is supposed to be using an emissions control device but they’re using a boiler to route natural gas emissions.
The Department of Environmental Quality hosted a meeting on Thursday to discuss how it plans to fix Sublette county's air quality problems. Emissions from oil and gas production in the area have caused ozone, or smog, to form at levels that exceed federal limits. Wyoming Public Media's Willow Belden has the story.