Air quality should not be up for debate

This spread gives the tons/year (tpy) of pollutants discharged by O&G by particular VOCs. Garfield led the herd for 2011. Data source: CO Air Pollution Control Division [Click on the image for a larger view]

This spread gives the tons/year (tpy) of pollutants discharged by O&G by particular VOCs. Garfield led the herd for 2011. Data source: CO Air Pollution Control Division [Click on the image for a larger view]

Unfortunately in Garfield County it is.

It baffles me that anyone can drive through western Garfield County and not see the brown clouds and the blue ozone. Apparently that is the case with the Commissioners and O&G liaison Kirby Wynn. They just can’t see it – or smell it.

During the air quality discussion at the BOCC meeting on Monday (1/20) Kirby Wynn assured the BOCC that air quality here in Garfield County is fine, fine, fine.

Watch the video here.
Total discussion time is approximately 90 minutes.
The Air Quality Update begins at 32:00 with Kirby Wynn’s presentation which lasts until 1:18.

GarCo stance on air quality rules debated [subscribers only]

… Kirby Wynn, the county’s oil and gas liaison, told commissioners Monday that the state air-quality regulators are telling him the county has never had an issue in terms of approaching violation levels for ozone.

He also said levels of oil and gas air pollutants such as benzene have decreased since 2008. Wynn said that according to the state, the decreases have not been because of the slowdown in drilling, since they involve sources that stay in place for decades, but instead have been because of industry advances in technology and regulations that already have been implemented.

“It’s just good to see that there’s been some positive effect,” he said.

But Bob Arrington of Battlement Mesa said that although ozone levels in the county haven’t exceeded the federal 75 parts-per-billion threshold regularly enough to put it in violation, ozone has been above that level. He also noted that consideration is being given to reducing that threshold, which some other [countries] have set at 65 ppb or less …

Regarding Kirby Wynn’s presentation, missing from the news articles was his acknowledgment of the ozone problem in Rangely in Rio Blanco County. But he dismissed it as though the air in Rangely stays in Rangely. He is underestimating the ozone problem in Garfield County. Everyone agrees that Rangely has an air quality problem and they blame it on the gas fields in Utah. But Rangely does not exist inside a bubble. Even with a basic understanding of air flow it’s easy to understand that Rangely’s air quality problem is not just a Rio Blanco County problem. It’s a problem for Garfield County as well as the entire western slope.

Bob Arrington’s presentation begins at 1:18; followed by GVCA President Leslie Robinson, with comments by Lisa Bracken and Anita Sherman. The Air Quality Update ends at 2:04.

Click here to follow along with Bob Arrington’s PowerPoint presentation.

A couple things need correction and/or clarification. During Bob’s presentation he said, “The nice pristine areas in Hawaii globally are measuring … they’ve reached the 400 mark on their mountain reserves on CO2.”

John Martin shot back, “They might have a volcano that’s continuing to go off for the last eight years, too.”

Tom Jankovsky chimed in, “They also have cattle grazing and cattle ranches.”

Funny I don’t recall seeing a whole lot of cattle and cattle ranches the last time I visited the Big Island. I saw hundreds of horses and wild goats. Maybe I just couldn’t see the cattle.

Ok, so maybe Bob could have been more specific, but I knew what he meant. He wasn’t talking about air pollution in Hawaii. He was referring to the Mauna Loa Observatory on the Big Island named Hawai’i. MLO is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) – Global Monitoring Division (GMD). At the observatory scientists monitor and measure EARTH’s CO2 emissions. In December 2013, the GLOBAL monthly average CO2 levels reached an all-time high of 396.81 ppm – almost 400.

Not because of volcanoes — or cows — in Hawai’i.

Tom Jankovsky also mentioned “green completions.” He asked O&G liaison Kirby Wynn, “On green completions … most of our operators are going in that direction … What’s going on in our county as far as green completions?”

“Our” operators? Really?

Wynn replied, “All of our operators have been using green completions …”

By way of translation, what he meant was that all the operators in Garfield County use green completions on some of their fracking jobs. Notice he did not say “All of our operators are using green completions at all of their sites.”

Here are the Cliff Notes on green completions:

In compliance with he Clean Air Act, the EPA adopted a rule in April 2012, which “generally requires owners/operators to use reduced emissions completions, also known as RECs or green completions, to reduce VOC emissions from well completions [fracking]. To achieve these VOC reductions, owners and/or operators may use RECs or completion combustion devices, such as flaring, until January 1, 2015. As of January 1, 2015, operators must use RECs and a completion combustion device.”

How the EPA’s New Oil and Gas Standards Will Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

… The new standards require that most fractured and refractured gas wells undertake “green completions” (also known as reduced emissions completions) to reduce VOC emissions. Green completions involve a process for capturing natural gas leaked from wells while the drilling, fracturing, and reservoir fluids are expelled (a process known as well completion). In short, when a well is green completed, owners or operators use equipment to capture any gases that reach the surface with drilling liquids during a well completion, thereby reducing emissions of both VOCs and methane. This new requirement becomes cost-effective when developers capture and sell natural gas that is otherwise leaked, vented or flared …

Most likely “our” operators in Garfield County have not yet reached 100% compliance for green completions but all the operators are doing green completions on some wells. The point is, green completions only cover one aspect of the total oil & gas drilling picture. As Bob pointed out in his presentation, emissions come from a variety of sources including compressors, condensate and produced water tanks, glycol dehydrators, open hatches, leaking pipes, truck traffic, etc.

Bob Arrington’s presentation was followed by a statement from GVCA President Leslie Robinson in which the group takes issue with GarCo’s opposition to the proposed statewide air quality regulations.

As you might expect, Bob Arrington takes exception to some aspects of Kirby’s “experts-agree-everything’s-fine” air quality presentation.

He points us to the EPA Ozone page.

Bob says:

“Down the page is a map with many, many heliotrope balloons. Enlarge it about 1/3 the way up the scale and you, like Dorothy, can come back to Kansas. Enlarge a bit more to taste. Follow I-70 with the grabber. You can now range up and down the western slope with ozone readings by clicking on balloons. Click on Rifle and you ‘pop’ Kirby’s balloon from Monday’s presentation.

“Check to see how many were going up and suddenly they stopped recording. But Moffat, Rio Blanco, Mesa, Garfield, LaPlata all have some bad news to report.
Going east Thompson Divide is bad, Snowmass is down, but Aspen Mtn. is over the National Standard. Remember the wind patterns and it makes sense.

“The County was saying the Rifle data on ozone is trending down, but on the chart with the balloon click on Rifle and you will see an upward trend. I am trying to resolve this difference. However, as you go eastward on the balloons and graphs, you will see ozone going over the non-attainment threshold. When you see what appears to be Aspen Mountain, it is total non-attainment. An expiation can be the ozone does not completely form until it gets further east in Garfield and keeps forming by the time it reaches Pitkin. Like the excuse offered for Rangely, ‘it came from Utah.’

“The downtrend in VOCs should have resulted as ‘liquids’ became more profitable and companies started gathering them in 2011, but gains that way will be erased if the number of wells increase and if the same collection isn’t continually applied and leaks addressed.”


As Bob said in his presentation, the Ambient Air Quality Standard in Canada and several other countries is set at 65 ppb, compared to 75 ppb in the U.S. And the EPA has proposed lowering the standard to 65 ppb. The lower standard of 65 ppb is based on scientific studies that show the health benefits of ozone reduction.

To be more specific with regard to the impacts of oil & gas drilling, many studies have shown that public health is impacted by air pollution from oil & gas drilling.

Summary of Studies Indicating Health Risks from Gas and Oil Development

For more info: Air Quality links and info

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