Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

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The U.S. Corp of Engineer’s efforts to clean up contamination at a missile site near Cheyenne has been inadequate. That’s according to a newly released report commissioned by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.

The report was conducted by the Intera group. It found that the Corp of Engineers, who have been monitoring the abandoned Atlas Missile Site since the early 2000’s, didn’t realize how much of the chemical TCE had leaked into nearby soil and groundwater. TCE can cause cancer and liver damage if consumed, says Wyoming DEQ manager Hannes Stueckler.

As oil production continues to boom in the Powder River Basin, illegal wastewater dumping is a growing problem. Kodiak Oilfield in Converse County was recently cited for illegally dumping produced water, one of 14 water violations in the state so far this year.

Oil fields typically produce about twice as much water as they do oil – water that is high in sodium content and contains hydrocarbons. Dumping this water into streams, rivers, or fields could interfere with natural habitat, soil, and water quality.

Stephanie Joyce

The federal government has given its blessing for an underground coal gasification (UCG) test project in Wyoming. UCG involves gasifying --  basically, incompletely burning -- coal seams deep underground to produce syngas, which can be converted to diesel and other liquid fuels. Linc Energy’s project needed Environmental Protection Agency approval because it will pollute an aquifer (the company says it will restore the aquifer to its original quality after the test burn).

Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has proposed new rules for controlling emissions from oil and gas operations in the Upper Green River Basin, and they're getting push-back from all sides.

The area around Pinedale is out of compliance with federal air quality standards for ozone, a harmful pollutant, because of nearby gas fields. Half a dozen groups have submitted written comments on the proposed rules for cutting emissions from existing oil and gas sites.

Stephanie Joyce

Millions of railcars leave the Powder River Basin every year, carrying hundreds of millions of tons of coal. Those are big numbers, but the coal we mine is just a small fraction of what’s underground. Most of the basin’s coal reserves are buried too deep for conventional mining.

An Australian company called Linc Energy wants to use a technology known as underground coal gasification to tap those deep coal reserves and turn them into fuel. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, that might come at the peril of another valuable resource: water.

The state has requested information from Australian regulators about alleged environmental crimes by Linc Energy. The company operates an underground coal gasification project in Australia and wants to the do the same here in Wyoming.

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.

Willow Belden

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.

NETL/DOE

The state held its first-ever public meeting about the issue of orphaned and idle gas wells Wednesday in Gillette. 

The coal bed methane boom left more than a thousand potentially hazardous, abandoned wells on state and private lands in Wyoming, and landowners turned out in droves to learn about the Governor’s plan for plugging them.

Credit Wyoming Associated Press

Wyoming regulators recorded hundreds of spills by the oil and gas industry last year, but issued just a handful of fines. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, that’s actually not unusual.

STEPHANIE JOYCE: ‘Genie McMullan knows when there’s been an oil spill from the production wells on her goat farm in the Big Horn Basin.

'GENIE McMULLAN: When there’s a spill there’s a sharp smell, it’s a burning smell to my senses, my nose, my eyes, my lungs.

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.

Stephanie Joyce

Converse County is one of six counties in Wyoming with no land use regulations. When a proposal to develop zoning came up a decade ago, it went nowhere. But as development associated with the oil and gas boom in the Niobrara explodes, the county is struggling with questions of how to make sure it happens responsibly. And as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, some residents are starting to question the costs of not planning.

Governor Matt Mead says he trusts the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to deliver trustworthy results when it takes over the Pavillion water contamination study from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A draft of the study initiated by the EPA was released in 2011 and tentatively linked groundwater contamination with fracking, something industry expressed skepticism about.

Mead says he’s not sure yet whether the state study will be peer reviewed once it’s completed.

Willow Belden

A facility is slated to be built in the town of Fort Laramie that would load oil onto rail cars. Assuming the project gets the necessary permits from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, it’s expected to be completed by the end of the year. Transporting oil by train is becoming increasingly popular, and experts say this facility and others like it will help the energy industry thrive. But local residents fear that a new industrial site could bring problems to their community. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has been running an Engine Emissions Study for almost two years now. For the most part, Wyoming oil and gas fields are not connected to the grid and so they end up running on engines, which emit pollutants into the air. The study set out to evaluate emissions from these generators around the state. Results from the study show that a large percentage of the engines fail the tests. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov spoke with the DEQ Air Quality Engineer in charge of the study, Jon Walker, about why that is.

The EPA issues water discharge permits on the Wind River Indian Reservation to oil and gas companies bringing up water with their oil. 

That water, called produced water, is dirty and often warm even in winter. The permits are issued through an EPA waiver that allows such water to be discharged in the arid West if it’s being used beneficially.  In the drier parts of Wyoming it is sometimes the only source of water for livestock and wildlife.

New DEQ director shares his plans for Wyoming

Nov 16, 2012

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has a new director, Todd Parfitt, the agency’s former deputy director. He took over after former director John Corra retired. Parfitt has spent about 20 years with DEQ, and he has also worked for an environmental consulting company in Ohio. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden spoke with Parfitt about his plans for tackling some of the environmental issues facing the state.