Several years ago, there were days when air pollution in Pinedale was worse than in Los Angeles. Residents complained of respiratory problems, and visits to local medical clinics increased. In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency said the area was violating federal air quality standards, and gave Wyoming three years to fix the problem. Since then, air quality has been better. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports, nobody knows whether the problem is really fixed, and some worry that the state is not doing enough to prevent similar problems from happening elsewhere.
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.
Some landowners with oil and gas wells on their property complain about emissions affecting their air quality and health. But though there may be a lot of wells, they’re considered small facilities, so their cumulative effects are never counted up and regulations are more lax than for large emitters. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov reports that that could be a problem since in aggregate, their pollution can be significant.
Coal dust emissions from trains could be cut following a recent ruling by the federal Surface Transportation Board. The Board ruled earlier this month that rail companies can require use of dust suppressants or ‘toppers’ on coal cars.
BNSF was one of the companies pushing for the rule. Spokeswoman Courtney Wallace says coal dust has been shown to foul the tracks and lead to accidents.
Natural gas’ reputation as a climate-friendly alternative to coal has been tarnished recently by concerns that methane—a potent greenhouse gas—is leaking in copious quantities as the fuel makes its way from the ground to the consumer. A study released Monday provides the first on-the-ground measurements of methane leaks at hydraulically fractured natural gas well sites, and they're not as bad as some had feared.
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality is wrapping up an engine emissions study it started in May of 2011. The study looks at emissions from engines around the state, like generators running on oil and gas fields, to find out if those emissions are in compliance with air quality laws.
DEQ Air Quality Engineer Jon Walker says operators have traditionally been in charge of monitoring their own engines, but he says that’s not a good system.
Sinclair Oil has agreed to pay a fine of $3.8 million and install pollution controls at its refineries in Casper and Rawlins, to settle a lawsuit that the Environmental Protection Agency filed.
The EPA says the refineries exceeded federal limits on various emissions.
Sheldon Muller, a lawyer with the EPA, says the Casper refinery will have to install equipment to reduce nitrous oxide emissions by 50 percent, and the Rawlins plant has make changes to its flare gas recovery system, in order to limit sulfur dioxide emissions.