Ozone Advisory triggers Contingency Plans
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
February 3, 2009
On Tuesday, February 3, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued an Ozone Advisory for Wednesday, February 4th for Sublette County in the Upper Green River Valley. The advisory is a forecast from DEQ that conditions appear to be favorable to result in the formation of ozone on Wednesday.
Shortly after the advisory was issued, we started hearing rumors that ‘they are shutting down the Jonah Field!’ After some investigation, we determined what is actually happening is that at least one company is initiating their contingency plan for action, triggered by the DEQ ozone advisory.
EnCana Oil and Gas (USA), one of the operators in the Jonah gas field south of Pinedale, has notified its staff and contractors that their contingency plan has been activated for Wednesday. EnCana submitted their contingency plan last November and had it approved by DEQ. The plan involves voluntary measures the company would implement to minimize emissions that might contribute to the formation of ozone. The contingency plan include notifying some contractors that activities that had been scheduled for Wednesday are being postponed because they have the potential of release compounds into the air that could contribute to ozone formation. "We want the community to understand that we take this very seriously," said Randy Teeuwen, Community Relations Advisor for EnCana Oil & Gas, in a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon.
The ozone forecast is not causing either the Jonah Field or Pinedale Anticline to shut down completely. Some activity that is vital to continued operations will still be operational at well sites and processing areas.
EnCana’s plan includes minimizing emissions from motor vehicles and use of ancillary equipment, postponing non-essential construction and maintenance activities, and postponing initiation of well fracturing, completion and blowdown activities. Precautions include minimizing vehicle engine idling. When employees are out checking on equipment, they will turn the vehicle motor off instead of leaving it running. Another step is to fuel vehicles in the evening when weather conditions are less likely to result in ozone formation. Employees are being asked to double-up vehicle occupancy, if possible, and minimize the miles they travel.
In addition, the EnCana contingency plan calls for postponing non-essential construction activities. While the advisory is in effect, they will postpone construction of well pads, access roads, pipelines and facilities and reschedule those things for another day. Non-essential, routine and non-routine maintenance activities that could involve releasing compounds into the air that might contribute to the formation of ozone are being postponed.
"We’ve made substantial emission reductions already and are still working on doing that," Teeuwen said.. "We have millions invested in emission reduction, and we’re not done yet. We will continue to work on it and make progress."
Since the ozone advisories and high ozone levels that occurred last winter, there have been many meetings on the topic of ozone and what can be done to minimize contributing factors, DEQ is conducting an intensive study of wintertime ozone formation in the Upper Green River Basin. Winter ozone formation comes as a surprise to scientists. Typically it is a summer phenomenon occurring more in populated areas. In the Upper Green River Valley, ozone appears to be elevated when there are strong temperature inversions, low winds, snow cover and bright sunlight.
DEQ has asked industry to make their own plans on what they will do with their operations in the event of an ozone advisory. We have not yet heard what other companies in the industry are doing in response to this ozone advisory. The public is also encouraged to take whatever steps they can to minimize activities they do that might contribute to ozone-forming chemicals being released into the air on Wednesday.
This is the first test of the contingency plans in response to a real ozone advisory by DEQ. Many people will be watching to see what happens on Wednesday with the weather and if elevated ozone levels actually materialize as predicted in the ozone advisory.