March 9, 2011

Wyoming Seeing More Smog As Nature Gas Drilling Booms

Wyoming is looking more like Los Angeles because of the recent boom in natural gas drilling, reports The Associated Press (AP).

People are now complaining of watery eyes, shortness of breath and bloody noses because of ozone levels that have exceeded what people in L.A. and other major cities deal with.

In the Upper Green River Basin, some wonder if they have made a bargain with the devil by having gas drilling go strong again.  Because of this, Wyoming enjoys one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates at 6.4 percent.

Two days last week, ozone levels in the basin rose above the higher levels recorded in the biggest U.S. cities last year.

Preliminary data put ozone levels on Wednesday two-thirds higher than the Environmental Protection Agency's maximum healthy limit of 75 parts per billion. 

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality urged the elderly, children and people with respiratory conditions to avoid strenuous or extended activity outdoors.

There are higher levels of ozone during the winter months in Upper Green River Basin.  This is a result of a combination of gas industry emissions, snow on the ground, bright sunshine and temperature inversions.

The higher level of pollution builds up during the day and becomes visible above the horizon as a thin layer of brown smudge.

The gas industry drilled hundreds of wells in the basin over the past decade and made the basin one of the top gas-producing areas in the U.S.

"Ultimately it comes down to accountability," Linda Baker, director of the Upper Green River Alliance, told AP. "It doesn't seem to me the companies are being very accountable to the residents here." High ozone, she said, gave her a constant nosebleed three days last week.

Gas industry officials say they are working hard to curb smog by reducing truck traffic and switching to drilling rigs with pollution control equipment.

Shell spokeswoman Darci Sinclair said they have postponed well completions and routine maintenance until the ozone advisories have passed.

"Shell has taken some meaningful measures to really reduce our measures. Some were voluntary and some were mandatory, but they've resulted in some significant reductions," Sinclair said.

Keith Guille, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality, said that gas industry emissions that contribute to ozone pollution are down by as much as 25 percent in the Upper Green River Basin since 2008.

Governor Matt Mead, state regulators and industry representatives met on Monday to discuss what else companies can do to control pollution.

"We talked about the effectiveness of these contingency plans. We've seen them, they are good. However, we haven't been able to prevent these exceedances," Guille said.


On the Net: