Citizens petition EPA designate Sublette County as ‘Nonattainment’ area
Ozone air pollution in county has reached as high as 122 parts per billion
by 40 Sublette County residents and other public health and environmental organizations
June 25, 2008
Media Release submitted by Linda Baker:
In the wake of the worst smog pollution ever recorded in western Wyoming, a coalition including dozens of citizens has petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate Sublette County a “dirty air” area, a designation that triggers increased safeguards for clean air and public health.
“Like western Wyoming’s smog, this petition is unprecedented,” said Jeremy Nichols, Director of Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action. “We need to clean up this mess to safeguard public health; this petition is the first step, and it’s a big one.”
Monitors show that Sublette County is officially in violation of health standards limiting ozone air pollution, a key ingredient of smog. Up high, ozone protects us from ultraviolet radiation, but down low it’s a corrosive gas that can damage lungs, trigger asthma attacks, and send people to the emergency room. Children, seniors, those with asthma and other respiratory conditions, and those active outdoors are most at risk.
“We’re dealing with unhealthy air pollution that can permanently damage the lungs of children, young athletes, those with respiratory problems, and others who seek to enjoy outdoor recreation,” said Dr. Michael Kramer, a board certified Emergency Physician and resident of Pinedale, Wyoming, the largest town in Sublette County. “This isn’t Denver or Los Angeles, but we need the same protection.”
Ozone air pollution is limited by federal regulations to no more than 75 parts per billion over an eight-hour period. An area violates this standard when the three-year average of the fourth highest reading is higher than 75. Ozone levels near the town of Boulder in rural Sublette County climbed to 122 parts per billion earlier this year, higher than most urban areas experience. Data from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality shows that the three-year average of the fourth highest reading at the Boulder monitor is now 80 parts per billion, in violation of ozone standards.
When an area violates ozone standards, it is officially declared a “dirty air” area, or more officially a “nonattainment” area. Under the federal Clean Air Act, nonattainment areas are subject to stronger clean air safeguards and states have to develop rigorous clean up plans. What’s more, states can face sanctions and loss of federal highway dollars for failing to clean up nonattainment areas.
“This air pollution problem is not going to fix itself, we need to act now to protect the health of our community,” said John Fogerty, a father and member of the Pinedeale, Wyoming Planning and Zoning Commission. “My daughter deserves every effort we can make to clean up harmful levels of ozone pollution, starting right here and now.”
Ozone forms when sunlight reacts with two key air pollutants: volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. In Sublette County, most ozone-forming pollution comes from oil and gas drilling. Since 2000, the number of producing oil and gas wells in Sublette County has increased by nearly 200%; there are now over 5,000 producing wells in the region. In turn, ozone-forming pollution has skyrocketed.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, as of 2001 oil and gas released over 13,000 tons of volatile organic compounds, or 99% of all the volatile organic compounds released in the region and a six-fold increase just since 1998 according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency monitoring data. The main sources of volatile organic compounds include oil and storage tanks, fumes from leaking pipes and valves, evaporation pits, and other equipment.
The Bureau of Land Management also reported that nitrogen oxide emissions from oil and gas totaled 7,718 tons, equal to the amount of pollution released by over 400,000 cars (according to the U.S. EPA, a standard car releases 38.2 pounds of nitrogen oxides, www.epa.gov/otaq/consumer/f00013.htm). This represented 97% of all the county’s nitrogen oxide emissions and a threefold increase just since 1998. The main sources of nitrogen oxides are drill rig engines, truck traffic, and natural gas compressor engines.
By 2021, the Bureau of Land Management predicts volatile organic compound pollution from oil and gas drilling will increase by more than 375%, while nitrogen oxide pollution will increase by more than 300%. In the coming years, the agency plans to drill more than 7,000 new oil and gas wells in Sublette County.
The petition filed today with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requests that Sublette County, and potentially adjacent areas, be designated nonattainment so that a clean up plan can be quickly developed.
“I’ve been a resident of Wyoming for 30 years, and have enjoyed both clean air and freedom from governmental oversight, but having grown up in Los Angeles during the 70s, with high ozone a regular occurrence, I know the effect of ozone first-hand.” said Rod Rozier, an atmospheric scientist and resident of Pinedale. “The health effects due to ozone pollution are well-documented and severe enough that we need to solve this problem now. Solutions exist, these problems have been solved elsewhere over the past 30-40 years, and we need outside federal assistance to implement the known solutions.”
Among the safeguards that could be adopted are cost-effective emission controls for drill rig engines, more efficient oil and gas production, and more centralized processing of oil and gas in Sublette County. Some oil and gas operators in the region are already undertaking sensible strategies to cut their emissions, while at the same time enhancing their profitability.
“This isn’t about shutting down the oil and gas industry, this is about doing it right,” said Linda Baker of the Upper Green River Valley Coalition. “Doing it right means safeguarding clean air and our health for this and future generations. This is both reasonable and responsible.”
Joining the petition are over 40 Sublette County residents and other public health and environmental organizations.
A copy of the petition is available online at http://ourcleanair.org/uploads/Wyoming_nonattainment.pdf.
For more information contact:
Dr. Mike Kramer, Sublette County resident and medical professional, (702) 260-6162 (h); 307-360-8801 (c), firstname.lastname@example.org
Rod Rozier, Sublette County resident and atmospheric scientist, (307) 367-3323, email@example.com
John Fogerty, Sublette County resident and member of Pinedale, Wyoming Planning and Zoning Commission, (307) 367-6445, firstname.lastname@example.org
Linda Baker, Upper Green River Valley Coalition, (307) 367-3670; cell (307) 231-1323, email@example.com
Jeremy Nichols, Director, Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, (303) 454-3370, cell (303) 437-7663; firstname.lastname@example.org