What ozone nonattainment means
by Sublette County
April 14, 2009
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Director John Corra held an informational session with Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman, Lincoln County Commission Chair Kent Connolly, Lincoln County Commissioner Jerry Harmon, various Lincoln County staff, field representatives for Wyomingís congressional delegation, and local media.
Although Sweetwater County officials were invited, they were unable to attend Mondayís session in Pinedale.
Corra was there to talk about ozone non-attainment areas, and what that means to affected counties. In March, Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal submitted a recommendation to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the federal agency should designate an area in southwest Wyoming as an ozone nonattainment area. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to place an area in nonattainment status when ozone levels exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
The process of obtaining nonattainment status happens in one of two ways, according to Corra. The governor of a state can request such a designation from the EPA based on monitoring data, or the EPA can make that determination on its own. A Boulder-area air quality monitoring station documented nonattainment for ozone in 2008.
At Mondayís meeting, Corra briefed the group about the technical document that has been forwarded to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use in its determination about the nonattainment area.
Following a formal nonattainment designation, Wyoming will be required to develop a state implementation plan containing state commitments to return the area to attainment status. Generally those plans provide for five to seven years of actions to bring it back into attainment, sometimes even longer.
Corra pointed out what is unique about the current situation is that the EPA changed its national ozone standard in March 2008. Any time such revisions are made, governors have one year to send a letter detailing whether each county in their state meets the attainment standard. Corra said it was coincidental that the ozone revision came about at the same time the Boulder station exceeded the ozone standard.
Governor Freudenthalís letter to EPA said all counties in the state are in attainment, with the exception of Sublette County and small portions of Lincoln and Sweetwater counties.
The EPA uses a nine-factor analysis to determine the size of a designated non-attainment area, including: air quality data, emissions data, population density and degree of urbanization (including commercial development), traffic and commuting patterns, growth rates and patterns, meteorology (weather/transport patterns), geography and topography, jurisdictional boundaries, and the level of control of air emissions.
The DEQ nonattainment area includes all of Sublette County, and the portion of Lincoln County adjoining Sublette, following Fontenelle Creek to the Green River, following the Green into Sweetwater County, where it follows the Green River to the Big Sandy River and to the Sublette County boundary. This nonattainment area includes all the natural gas and oil fields in Sublette County, as well as the LaBarge-area industrial fields. It excludes areas of development in Lincoln County such as the Naughton on power plant and the Moxa Arch field operations.
Corra explained that although the ozone exceedance event occurred at one monitoring station near Boulder, EPA may want to make all of southwestern Wyoming a non-attainment area. Corra called this a concern, since DEQ does not feel that this expanded area is justified by monitoring data.
The DEQ technical report Corra reviewed noted that the DEQ recommended the smaller nonattainment area based on a careful examination of the circumstances surrounding the incidence of elevated ozone events.
"Elevated ozone in the Upper Green River Basin is associated with distinct meteorological conditions. These conditions have occurred in February and March in some (but not all) of the years since monitoring stations began operation in the UGRB in 2005. Our determination of an appropriate nonattainment area boundary is focused on an evaluation of EPAís recommended nine factors, applied to the first quarter of the year, during which winter ozone episodes occur. This timing does not change how the factors are reviewed, except for emissions inventory and meteorology. It is important to evaluate inventory and meteorology during the first quarter of the year in order to focus on the very specific conditions that lead to high ozone."
Corra pointed out that air quality monitoring efforts in this region continue to increase as resources are pooled and cooperation between agencies has heightened. He also noted that the Wyoming Legislature recently approved funding for additional monitoring stations in southwestern Wyoming to help evaluate whether Wyoming is receiving emissions from out of state sources, although current monitoring does not indicate this is the case.
Corra also noted that monitoring data this winter has shown very little ozone exceedance, adding that this winterís conditions were very different from last yearís winter conditions. Since ozone is caused by the mixture of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx, a product of combustion, such as rigs, soda ash factories, power plants). In order for these two chemicals to mix and cause ozone, they must have energy, which can come from bright sunlight, which is magnified by snow cover. Elevated ozone episodes in Sublette County are associated with very light low-level winds, cold temperatures, sunshine, and snow cover, in conjunction with strong low-level surface-based temperature inversions.
The DEQís inventory of emissions for the recommended nonattainment area and the surrounding counties shows that 94 percent of VOC emissions in the basin and 60 percent of NOx emissions are attributable to oil and gas production and development. Of the eleven major sources in the Upper Green River Basin, all are oil and gas related.
The technical document notes: "The analysis conclusively shows that elevated ozone at the Boulder monitor is primarily due to local emissions from oil and gas development activities: drilling, production, storage, transport, and treating. The ozone exceedances only occur when winds are low indicating that there is no transport of ozone or precursors from distances outside the proposed nonattainment area. The ozone exceedances only occur in the winter when the following conditions are present: strong temperature inversions, low winds, cold temperatures, clear skies and snow cover."
Corra pointed out that because of the requirements for new emission sources, it is extremely important that nonattainment areas be correctly defined. He emphasized that only small portions of Lincoln and Sweetwater are involved in DEQís recommendation.
In attainment areas, existing emission sources, such as the Naughton power plant, are required to use "best available control technology" in future plans. Companies are allowed to weigh the cost of such technology when BACT is considered.
But in nonattainment areas, companies must use the "Lowest achievable emissions reduction" technology, which is a much higher standard and no consideration of costs is weighed.
Corra said that for a proposed new source to be permitted in a nonattainment area, "you canít add new pollutants." Companies must find offsets from existing emitters to compensate for emissions it will add, he explained.
There is currently an emissions offset program in place in Sublette County, Corra noted, and the portions of Lincoln and Sweetwater counties involved will be brought in and subject to the offsetting policies as well.
The EPA has up to one year to agree or disagree with Governor Freudenthalís request for an ozone nonattainment area, Corra said. Then the state would have up to three years to develop an implementation plan, and another five to seven years to bring the area into attainment. Corra said that the process allows for the process to take up to about 11 years to achieve attainment.
"We are not going to wait that long" Corra said. He pointed to the studies being conducted, programs already put in place, and voluntary commitments are in place from industry to achieve attainment. With the stateís new ozone alert program, industrial companies have instituted contingency plans to take immediate actions to help reduce risks/opportunities for ozone problems. That has been an effective strategy.
Corra said he feels attainment will happen much sooner than the federal timeline contemplates.
The technical document notes: "The level of control of emissions in the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline Development is very stringent and new oil and gas production (O&G) units in Sublette County and surrounding counties require permits including Best Available Control Technology. An interim policy for Sublette County which took effect in 2008 results in a net decrease in emissions of ozone precursors with every permit that is issued. Since stricter controls for O&G are already in place in Sublette County, if O&G sources outside of Sublette County might contribute ozone or ozone precursors to the Boulder monitor, including these O&G sources in the proposed nonattainment area would provide motivation to control these sources."
Corra noted he joined Sublette County Commissioners in Washington D.C. recently to meet with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to inform her of the efforts taking place here in western Wyoming. It appears that was a precedent-setting meeting for county commissioners to meet with high-level EPA officials about ozone efforts.
County commissioners from the three counties are also taking air quality research a step further, agreeing to fund a toxic emissions study. Commissioners initiated the study, at a cost of about $800,000 in response to citizen concerns.
The study will examine the risks to human health for citizens of Sublette County who are exposed to air toxics and ozone as they live and work in the county. According to the study plan: "The process of conducting an air toxics risk assessment will start by selection of chemicals of potential concern to be evaluated. These chemicals will include chemicals known to be produced and emitted during drilling, completion and production of natural gas and from activities ancillary to such industrial processes. Most air samples collected during the study will be analyzed for the identified chemicals of potential concern, and a subset of samples will be analyzed for a broader range of constituents to ensure that the study does not miss a particular air toxic. Samples will also be collected for ozone for evaluation in the risk assessment.
"The study will also determine the exposure patterns for residents and sensitive subpopulations, and will then assess the expected human health risk resulting from exposure of those residents to air toxics and ozone measured in the ambient air throughout the county."
The study will be similar to one conducted in Garfield County, Colorado, and is designed to provide a level of assurance about the air quality conditions in this region. Results wonít be available until 2010.
With air quality concerns such a big issue in this region, county commissioners in the region are taking on a real leadership role, but what role county government will play once EPA makes its nonattainment determination remains unclear.
Corra said that county leaders will be key players in communication with the public, noting that there will be public meetings and hearings when it comes time for the state to develop its implementation plan. Corra said he doesnít know that the counties can have a managerial role the county can play, since thatís DEQís bailiwick.
Sublette Commissioner Joel Bousman emphasized that itís the working relationship between DEQ and the counties that is propelling progress on the air quality issue, but added that more funding needs to be acquired for future research and monitoring.
Lincoln Commissioner Jerry Harmon questioned whether fires may or not have a significant impact on this issue, since air quality problems in the region also include but there are visibility and other impacts of concern, in addition to ozone.
Lincoln Chairman Kent Connolly noted that lack of bark beetle control on the Bridger-Teton National Forest, expressing his commissionís fear that a catastrophic wildfire will be forthcoming, compounding existing air quality problems.
Corra noted that forest fires do compound the issue, but added that EPA grants exemptions for forest fires when visibility standards are exceeded, since the federal agency recognizes wildfires as natural events rather than man-caused events.
All three commissioners noted their hope that local efforts receive all the credit for progress on this issue, since itís the counties and companies that are doing a lot to address these concerns. Commissioner Bousman noted the county has set a precedent by reaching out to EPA in this way.
"We are doing a lot of what the EPA would require, Bousman said. "Itís already being done on a proactive, willing basis."
Corra noted that a public meeting to provide an update to the general public would be held in Pinedale on April 23, with the location and time to be determined. He also offered to conduct similar meetings in Lincoln County.
For more information, including access to the entire technical document discussed by Corra, check out the Sublette County Air Quality Information page on the DEQ website.