CASPER, Wyo. — A state advisory board moved last week to delay recommending a proposed air quality rule for natural gas facilities in the Upper Green River Basin, saying regulators need to consider concerns raised by industry and environmentalists.
The proposal is the cornerstone of Wyoming’s effort to reduce ozone in the Pinedale area, which is home to one of the largest natural gas fields in the country. The region saw ozone levels exceed federal health standards between 2008 and 2011.
The rule would require companies working in the region to use the best technology available to reduce emissions from existing tanks, pumps and other gasfield infrastructure, which account for the majority of the air pollution in the area.
Industry and environmental groups have expressed support for the rule, but each are hoping to shape it to better suit their liking.
The Jan. 1, 2016, compliance date, and the frequency of leak inspections, have been a key industry concern. Environmentalists are hoping the rule will be expanded to include emissions from compressor stations, while quarterly inspections will be required of small-scale emitters most frequent in the region.
Both sides aired their recommendations last week at a meeting of the Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Advisory Board at a hearing in Rock Springs.
The advisory board will ultimately recommend the rule to DEQ’s oversight board, the Environmental Quality Council, which signs off on the proposal.
But the board decided to delay instead.
“We want to consider things brought forward to see if some of them are germane and need to be worked into the rule or not,” said Klaus Hanson, an advisory board member.
DEQ will hold a public meeting July 31 in Cheyenne to hear more comments on the proposal followed by a telephone meeting of the advisory board Aug. 4.
John Robitaille, Petroleum Association of Wyoming vice president, said industry is supportive of the rule, but he questioned its proposed timeline.
“Given the large number of operations that would be affected, I really don’t believe that we can achieve that compliance date of basically one year,” Robitaille said. “First we have to go out and check everything. We have budgeting, contracting, scheduling. It is going to take a considerable amount of time to accomplish this.”
In written comments to the DEQ, Ultra Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell called the timeframe “not realistic” and said the rule would impact 400 wells spread across 20 multi-well pads. The companies suggested a phase-in approach to complying with the rule’s standards instead.
Ultra and Shell also expressed concern over leak inspections called for in the proposal. Those inspections are costly and should be done on an annual basis, they said.
Environmentalists took the opposite view.
Small emitters would be required to conduct annual leak inspections under the plan. Facilities with more emissions would face quarterly inspections.
But small-scale facilities account for 97 percent of emissions in the area, said John Goldstein, a senior policy manager at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Quarterly inspections are needed for smaller emitters if the plan is to make an appreciable improvement in air quality.
Compressor stations are also not covered by the proposal, Goldstein said, noting they would become the biggest source of emissions in the region if the rule was passed in its current form.
“We feel like the rule needs to be strengthened if it is going to have the impact people want it to have in the basin and, two, to continue Wyoming’s tradition of leading on air quality issues,” Goldstein said.