Why is Wyoming, the least populated state in the US, having ozone alerts?
“gas extraction activities”
By CHRIS MERRILL
Star-Tribune environment reporter Tuesday, March 11, 2008
For the third time in 12 days, authorities have issued an ozone advisory for the Pinedale area.
Ground-level ozone is mainly caused by human activity. It is hazardous to human health and to vegetation and can cause breathing problems particularly in children and elderly. The largest contributors to ground-level ozone are burning fossil fuels and pollutants from factories.
Ozone gas is created when sunlight hits hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen that are present in the air. Both are pollutants created chiefly by the burning of fossil fuels at ground level.
Heavy snow cover in the Upper Green River valley, combined with slow wind speeds and strong temperature inversions seem to increase ozone production around Pinedale, said David Finley, the air quality administrator for the DEQ.
A temperature inversion occurs when a warm air mass sits atop a cold mass, compressing it toward the earth. The inversion can have the effect of trapping the air in the valley.
While some of the hydrocarbon and NOX pollutants come from other sources in the Upper Green, a significant portion, it appears, are being produced by gas extraction activities in the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields, Finley told the Star-Tribune in February.
EnCana Oil and Gas, Inc., one of the main operators in the Jonah Field and also one of the main operators in the Barnett Shale area told the Star-Tribune reporter that EnCana is “genuinely interested in improving air quality.”
EnCana, he said, is continuously working to implement the most up-to-date, least-polluting equipment available. It is also working toward consolidating field operations in order to create fewer sources of possible emissions.
“I’d like people to know we are working on this. We’re being very aggressive about it,” Teeuwen said. “We, as an industry, are very heavily regulated. We work with the DEQ regularly. We’re in constant communication with the DEQ, and we have to comply with the regulatory agencies.”
Thankfully, Chris Merrill didn’t end his reporting with the good intentions expressed by the industry spokesman!
Bruce Pendery, air quality program director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said it’s important that companies like EnCana work to reduce emissions, but it’s also important the public understands what those reductions mean in the context of rapidly expanding development of the gas fields.
Even if each individual well is polluting less, the total pollution can increase as more wells are added to energy fields, he said.
“If you have 500 sources of emissions instead of 50 sources of emissions, even if those 500 sources have strong efforts to control pollution, like EnCana is claiming, the increased sources can just overwhelm and displace any efforts to control the pollution,” Pendery said. “In the Pinedale area, the scale is so accelerated that even if there are good faith efforts to control emissions, those efforts are simply being swamped.”
Pendery said the gas producers need to take aggressive actions to reduce emissions, as Teeuwen suggests they are, but they also might need to apply the brakes on expansion efforts.
“They might need to go slower,” he said. “Nobody out there even wants to consider a reduced pace of development, but everything needs to be on the table. All options should be considered. Clearly, scaling back the pace of development should be one of those options.”
Every day I read about new drilling activities in areas that require high impact drilling to produce the hydrocarbons. As we rush headlong to develop every last drop of hydrocarbons on this planet, the harm we are doing far outweighs the benefit. We need to reduce our use, develop clean, renewable sources and “first, do no harm” in developing what’s left of our hydrocarbons rather than beating the hydrocarbon energy dead horse into human extinction.