pollution

Scott Sandberg / NOAA

Ozone pollution has been a problem in western Wyoming for years because of oil and gas development, but the chemistry behind it has been a mystery, until now.

A study published this month in the journal Nature looks at how wintertime ozone pollution in rural areas with oil and gas development is chemically different from summertime ozone pollution in big cities. In the Uinta Basin in Utah the researchers found levels of the two main components of ozone were opposite of what they would be in cities.

Shella via Flickr

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering new air quality standards that, if adopted, would leave many Wyoming communities out of compliance.

The regulations would cut acceptable levels of ozone, a pollutant which can cause health problems.

Keith Guille is a spokesperson with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. He says the state would cooperate with the EPA if standards changed and any Wyoming community was found to have too much ozone, or be in “nonattainment.”

Willow Belden

Interim Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson says he's making it a priority to review Wyoming's setback rules.

Setback rules govern how close oil and gas development can be to things like houses and streams. The current limit is 350 feet.

At an Oil and Gas Commission meeting Tuesday night in Casper, several residents said they'd like to see the distance raised to a mile, because of concerns about potential health impacts of energy production. Watson says they're asking a lot.

A company proposing to open an underground coal gasification demonstration site in Wright has been charged with environmental violations in Australia.  The charges could cost the company over two million dollars per violation.

Underground coal gasification involves igniting coal seams deep underground to produce syngas, which can then be processed into various liquid fuels or other chemicals.     

What exactly the environmental harm is has not yet been revealed.

Irina Zhorov

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.  

FMC

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. ]

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.

FMC Corporation

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. ]

Courtesy Linda Baker

Environmental groups are urging the Bureau of Land Management to quickly develop a plan for preventing future groundwater pollution in the Pinedale Anticline gas fields.

The BLM released a report this week that said groundwater contamination in the area was mostly not a result of natural gas production. But Bruce Pendery with the Wyoming Outdoor Council says regulators still need to be vigilant in preventing potential future problems.

Willow Belden

Converse County is seeing an increasing amount of energy development, and some residents worry that air quality could suffer as a result. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and researchers from the University of Wyoming are now monitoring air quality in the area.

On the whole, they’ve found that the air is pretty clean. But they’ve also documented times when pollution levels have spiked. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

A new report by the environmental group Sierra Club says at least three coal-fired power plants in Wyoming discharge pollution containing metals into streams. According to the report, some plants do not monitor how much waste they discharge or what it contains.

The Environmental Protection Agency says coal plants nationwide contribute more than half of the toxic pollutants discharged to water bodies by regulated industry, but discharge standards have not been updated since 1982. 

US Department of Energy

The Department of Energy says that the high levels of uranium at a contaminated site on Wind River Reservation might not flush out of the groundwater naturally in 100 years, like they previously thought.  

Tailings from a uranium mill that functioned at the Riverton Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act site in the 1960s left the area’s groundwater with high levels of uranium and the DOE took over management of the site in the late ‘80s.

The Wyoming Rural Water Association supports the state’s plan to limit water pollution caused by leaking landfills… But says it’s already taken too long to get started on the effort, and it could be a while before Wyoming sees significant improvements.

At a press conference last week, Governor Matt Mead reminded the public of two bills the legislature passed this session. They created a municipal solid waste landfill remediation program as well as an initiative to help sub-par landfills close and transfer new garbage to better facilities.

     The Environmental Protection Agency will require pollution controls be improved at the Jim Bridger plant near Rock Springs and the Dave Johnson plant near Glenrock, but some don’t think the requirements go far enough.  The changes are part of the E-P-A’s regional haze plan for Wyoming.