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Hearing Today on Air Pollution from Oil, Gas Wells

Natural gas drilling rig near Pinedale in the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming. Credit: Environmental Defense Fund
Natural gas drilling rig near Pinedale in the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming. Credit: Environmental Defense Fund
October 28, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Not long ago, the Pinedale area in the Upper Green River Basin had ozone levels comparable to those of Los Angeles because of air pollution from a large cluster of oil and gas wells. So the Department of Environmental Quality clamped down with new rules to control emissions of methane and other toxic gases.

Today, the Wyoming Air Quality Advisory Board is considering extending some of the rules across the state. Former Pinedale City Council member Dave Hohl is happy the board is finally being proactive.

"This hearing is about extending some of those controls statewide ahead of the curve," he said, "instead of reacting after problems appear."

If the advisory board adopts the rules, they would go into effect Jan. 1.

John Robitaille, head of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, recently noted that oil prices are down and said the regulations make it harder to do business in the state. But environmental advocates such as Elaine Crumpley, a member of a group in Pinedale called Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development, want Wyoming to go even further and require wells be inspected four times a year for leaks.

"I encourage the state to consider leveling the playing field for industry and statewide air quality by requiring what we're doing in the Upper Green to happen statewide," she said.

Wayne Lax, a board member of the Cheyenne Area Landowners Coalition, said he's concerned with the sheer number of projects in the pipeline.

"About one-third of the applications for new wells throughout Wyoming are right here in Laramie County," he said. "Last time I looked, there was over 1,600 of them on the books. The regulations around this county are not set up to handle that kind of industrial activity."

The wells also emit volatile organic compounds that are harmful to human health and contribute to smog and global warming.

The proposal is online at deq.wyoming.gov.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - WY