Air quality update

fire smoke haze

Haze from wildfire smoke creates ozone

Because of the fire smoke, ozone levels reached an hourly average of 67 ppb today, with a high of 58 ppb for the 8-hour rolling average.  For updates on ozone and PM (particulate matter) levels go to the Garfield County website main page. Or visit the Air Quality Management page.

I’m not a scientist but I like to play one on the internets. So I’m going to explain, in the most unscientific terms possible, what the current fire smoke conditions mean to those of us living in western Gasfield county.

From Silt to Parachute, there are over 10,000 gas wells and a lot of drilling activity and natural gas facilities. Emissions from flaring, venting, drilling, air sparging, as well as fugitive emissions from all this heavy industrial activity, contain BTEXs (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes) and other chemicals. Those chemicals are heavier than air. Sunlight helps degrade those chemicals in the air.

Fire smoke causes elevated PM2 levels and ozone. The particulate matter in the smoke absorbs ultraviolet light which means the chemical emissions take longer to degrade.  In other words, mixed in with the fire smoke are BTEXs and other chemicals. Garfield County does not monitor air quality for BTEXs or other chemical emissions from oil & gas related activities.

If you live in western Gasfield county and you’re reading this be sure to take precautions, especially if you have asthma or any immune deficiency, or if you are coughing, sneezing, and congested. Symptoms of prolonged chemical exposure can also include: sore throat, earache, numbness and/or tingling in extremities, conjunctivitis, rashes and/or skin irritation. In the midst of last summer’s wildfire smoke and well flaring I had breathing difficulties much like asthma. I used recreational oxygen in a can and it helped.

The most important message I can leave with you is to be aware that you are not just breathing fire smoke. There are exhaust and chemical emissions in the mix. The red fire retardant – or slurry – is made up of mostly water and fertilizer but you don’t want to be breathing that either. Stay indoors or go to an area where there is less risk of exposure to fire smoke and chemical emissions.

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pink sky pollutionRemember the Air Quality Control Commission meeting in Grand Junction yesterday? I didn’t go because I have a problem with burning fossil fuels for a 140-mile round trip to talk to the commissioners for 3 minutes. That was not enough time for me. I’m a much better writer than speaker and so I’m opting for the written comment (cdphe.aqcc-comments@state.co.us). It should take me about a week.

So what did we miss? I thought perhaps there would be an article about the public meeting. Instead, The Daily Sentinel presented the oil & gas industry’s side. Click on the link and read the comments from Bob Arrington and Claudette Konola for a slightly different perspective.

Industry urges prudent action on air quality

By Gary Harmon

Air-quality regulators should keep in mind geographical and geological realities as they consider new rules on preventing emissions from drilling equipment, industry representatives said Thursday.

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission also should keep in mind that there could be economic consequences to their decisions, the commission was told.

Conditions are different in the northwest Colorado Piceance Basin, where natural gas is the most frequent drilling target, than they are in the DJ Basin, where deep reservoirs of oil are being tapped, attorney John Jacus told the commission, which met Thursday morning in a retreat at Grand Junction City Hall.

Regulations should be tailored to the various circumstances of drilling and producing in Colorado, David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association said.

“The question is, are you going to overshoot and have everybody in violation?” Ludlam asked the commission, which is beginning a rulemaking process that is to culminate this fall.

Restrictive requirements aimed at reducing emissions on modern machinery could be counterproductive when applied generally over the industry, Jacus said.

“You can’t put the latest equipment on an old stripper well that you would put on a new horizontal well pad,” Jacus said. A “stripper well” is an old well still capable of production, but which is put in and out of service when commodity prices justify doing one or the other.

Too restrictive a regulatory regime could mean that stripper wells and small producers would have to be capped, so as not to incur regulatory costs, Ludlam said.

Health officials also urged the commission to tread carefully. “We don’t want things that are responsive to a Front Range problem to hurt our economy,” Jeremy Simmons, environmental health officer for Rio Blanco County, told the commission.

The commission today is to tour drill rigs and production facilities in western Colorado.

In other words local governments and the industry prefer to sacrifice public health rather than make the operators clean up their act and reduce emissions.

If anyone out there attended the meeting, especially the public forum and would like to guest blog about it please email me: peggyt@siltnet.net

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