DEQ to issue ozone advisory forecasts
by Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality
January 29, 2009
Elevated levels of ozone were observed during February and March of 2008 in the Upper Green River Basin. As a result, the Air Quality Division (AQD) of Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued six ozone advisories during that two month period.
Ozone is an air pollutant that can cause adverse respiratory health effects especially to children, the elderly and people with existing respiratory conditions. On days when elevated ozone levels are expected, people in these sensitive groups should limit strenuous or extended outdoor activities, especially in the afternoon and evening. More information on ozone and the health effects of ozone are available at the Wyoming Department of Health website, http://www.health.wyo.gov.
In preparation for the winter of 2009 and the possibility of elevated ozone occurring again in the Upper Green River Basin, the AQD is initiating in-house weather forecasting. Forecasting by the AQD’s meteorologists will consist of evaluating whether a strong temperature inversion in conjunction with low winds, snow cover and clear skies is likely to occur. This is the combination of factors which, together with the presence of ozone forming emissions, appear to result in elevated ozone levels.
If it is determined that conditions favorable for the development of ozone are likely to occur, DEQ will issue an ozone advisory for the Upper Green River Basin. This information will be conveyed in two ways to the public. Beginning in early January, the main page of the WDEQ’s website, http://deq.state.wy.us, will carry a daily message (updated by noon every day) as to whether an advisory has been issued for the following day. Also, DEQ will notify all media outlets in Sublette County when an advisory is being initiated for the next day. Media outlets include Sublette County newspapers, radio stations, and online news sources.
In recognition of the presence of local emissions sources contributing to the formation of ozone, DEQ requested short-term emission reduction contingency plans from gas industry representatives operating in Sublette County to be implemented in response to ozone advisories. EnCana, Ultra, Shell, Questar, Anschutz, Nielson, Newfield, Yates, BP, Williams, Jonah Gas Gathering, ExxonMobil, EOG, Devon, Chevron, Gasco Energy, True Oil and Whiting Petroleum have volunteered to take actions which reduce ozone-forming emissions in response to any AQD ozone advisory. These companies operate the majority of the gas drilling operations in Sublette County, and account for more than 99% of the county’s total gas production.
Short-term emission reduction measures include deferring nonessential well pad and road construction and maintenance; postponing liquids (condensate and water) hauling; deferring truck and equipment refueling; and minimizing vehicle idling. Contingency plans do not commit companies to halting all drilling and production operations, due to the potential for an increase of ozone forming emissions which could result from the actions required to stop drilling and production operations.
The AQD operates several monitoring stations in the Upper Green River Basin. Real-time monitored data, including current ozone levels being measured at these stations, can be found at www.wyvisnet.com.
Editor’s Note: DEQ’s ozone advisories are only forecasts that conditions appear to be favorable that ozone might form the next day. However they do not alert the public if ozone levels have actually risen to dangerous levels. DEQ has real-time ozone monitors that can detect when ozone levels actually do rise to levels that pose health risks to the public on a given day. We have asked officials with Wyoming DEQ on multiple occasions for real-time ozone alert notifications, however to date they have not announced any plan to do so. DEQ controls the monitors and has the information at their fingertips to know when thresholds have been reached in real time. We receive real-time alerts from the Wyoming Highway Patrol and Sublette County Sheriff’s Office when there is an avalanche in Hoback Canyon or a bad accident that has blocked traffic on our highways. We receive minute-by-minute real-time alerts from the National Weather Service in Riverton when there is a tornado or dangerous storm approaching our area. Between radio and web, we are capable of posting these alerts in time to give advance warning to the public of dangerous conditions in our area. We commend the DEQ for issuing advisories doing the advance forecasting of potential ozone formation for the next day. We strongly encourage DEQ to take the next logical step and issue warnings to the public in real time when ozone levels have actually risen beyond safe thresholds so people can take preventative action to safeguard their health from this dangerous pollutant. We encourage the federal government to continue to improve their decision-making process and oversight efforts to make sure their management and permitted activities on public land do not cause negative health impacts on the people who live in the surrounding communities. We commend all who are working diligently to address the health issues and concerns of the ozone problem in the Upper Green River Valley. – Pinedale Online!