Air quality in Silt

Part 1:  Antero is NOT flaring

Part 2:  Black smoke and flare stacks

In this post, Part 3, I cover air quality in Silt. On this topic during our conversations with Kirby Wynn (GarCo oil & gas liaison) Tod and I did most of the talking. Kirby got an earful and he listened. I will begin with the information Kirby wanted to be sure my readers know. Then I will outline the points Tod and I made to him about Silt’s air quality.

According to Kirby Wynn, there is no H2S (hydrogen sulfide) source during the flaring process. Well pads are monitored continuously and an alarm sounds if the monitors sense H2S at a concentration of 10 parts per million (ppm) or higher. If an alarm occurs the company is required to notify the COGCC.

Kirby also said Paul Reaser (GarCo environmental health program manager) has been tasked to work with the town of Silt on the issue of air quality monitoring, including the different types of programs, costs, etc.

Okay, back to me. Here’s the problem I see with air quality monitoring. Don’t get me wrong, certainly we need air quality monitoring in Silt – sooner rather than later. However the problem is air quality monitors do not test for all of the pollutants associated with gas production, for instance benzene. Air monitors don’t stop the air pollution. We need to fix the problem. One way to begin to address the problem of air pollution would be for Garfield County to require all companies follow Antero’s lead and use the low NOX burner system. No flare stacks. No flaring.

We have been living with steady oil and gas development around Silt for the past ten years. Over the past six years drilling activity has moved closer to Silt. In 2006, Antero began drilling on the Stillwater land (Valley Farms leases) on CR 346 adjacent to the Nature Preserve. In 2007, they drilled north of the Colorado River on Hwy 6 east of Rifle. Bad air days were sporadic back then, air inversions during the winter months being the worst. Then in 2010, when Antero was drilling on Silt Mesa and the Hang’s gravel pit area (on CR 346), we noticed a few more problems with bad air, especially in the mornings and during air inversions. When Antero was drilling on Silt Mesa I experienced chronic conjunctivitis and “allergy” symptoms. This year with the drilling on the “A” pad and east toward Alpine Garden Center (on CR 346) we started having noticeably bad air days, and more of them, particularly at the end of May and into June.

We acknowledge that we have also been dealing with fire smoke and haze from fire smoke off and on since June. And that has been a real problem for us because the smoke contributes to air inversions. Air inversions tend to keep the smoke and chemical emissions from drilling activity from dispersing, hence the haze. This week the fire smoke haze has been really bad. The cause and effect of the combination of fire smoke haze and emissions from drilling activity – particularly the flaring and diesel smoke — is the rapidly declining air quality. Silt and the Colorado River valley are downwind of all that industrial activity at the Dixon pad, Antero well pads, and the Barrett-Bailey compressor station.

In the past month – since mid-August – our air quality has gone from bad to the worst it has ever been. Our reactions to the bad ozone have increased. Our “allergy” symptoms are worse and we are experiencing more severe symptoms than we have never experienced before – sore throat, swollen glands, earaches, headaches, nausea, and fatigue. Now I have developed numbness in my hands and fingers. And remember this, these symptoms gradually subside and some disappear when we leave Silt, even for a few hours.

Tod’s perspective on the air quality situation is worth paying attention to. He says:

“My position as the computer systems manager for a nationwide wholesale lumber distributor requires that I travel regularly to offices located across the U.S. I spend most of my travel time in the company’s New York office, which is just outside of Manhattan. I also spend a few weeks in Chicago. What brought my attention to our poor air quality was coming from these dense urban environments back home to Silt and actually smelling the bad air – not in New York City, not in downtown Chicago, but in the Colorado River valley and here in Silt. Over the last two years, more times than not, as I head east from the Garfield County Airport exit on the freeway, the air smells, my eyes sting, and I start sneezing. For me this has been not only startling, but a rude awaking to the realization that the air we breathe here in western Garfield County is worse that the air in New York City, Chicago, and even on the tarmac at DIA. Only when I’m in Silt do I have “allergy” symptoms – not in these other locations where I work. And I travel back and forth enough to notice the difference.”

Back to me again. If nothing else this current situation with the fire smoke haze drives home my point about our air quality. Go to the Garfield County Air Quality Management website. Check out recent and current ozone levels and PM 2.5 (fine particles such as those found in smoke and haze) levels. Over the past few days our rolling averages are steadily increasing into the yellow zone – and that’s in Rifle. I don’t need to be a scientist to know that emissions are also trapped in this haze, emissions containing benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, n-hexane, and VOCs.

Read this:   Outdoor Air – Industry, Business, and Home: Oil and Natural Gas Production

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