Natural gas drilling in Wyoming has created a problem more commonly associated with big cities like Los Angeles, California – smog. According to the Associated Press, Pinedale, Wyoming, located in the Upper Green Valley Basin and close to natural gas fields, has experienced ozone levels that have exceeded Los Angeles on its worst pollution days.
Natural gas drilling in Wyoming has been booming since drillers brought hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to the state. The state is benefiting economically from the boom – according to the Associated Press, its unemployment rate sits at 6.4 percent, one of the lowest in the nation. And Wyoming’s $1+ billion budget surplus is the envy of other deficit-ridden states.
But this prosperity may be coming at a cost. This blog has already detailed water contamination problems that may have resulted from fracking operations in Wyoming. Last fall, for example, we reported that people in central Wyoming around the town of Pavillion had been warned not to drink their well water after it was found to be contaminated toxins. According to Progressive.org, the EPA found oil compounds in 89 percent of all drinking wells that were tested in the area. Methane was found in seven wells out of a total of 23, and at least three of these wells were found to contain 2-butoxyethanol, a chemical known to be used in fracking.
Canadian-based Encana Oil & Gas, which operates hundreds of fracking wells in the area, denies its drilling has caused any problems, yet has agreed to pay for bottled water for the community. Encana is also part of a working group that includes the EPA, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission formed to investigate the water contamination.
Now it seems natural gas drilling may be impacting air quality in Wyoming. In 2009 for the first time in its history, Wyoming failed to meet federal air quality standards. According to The New York Times, the area around Pinedale recently experienced its worst ozone pollution event in three years. An ozone alert was declared on Wednesday, and another today. The elderly, children and people with respiratory conditions were cautioned to avoid strenuous or extended activity outdoors by the Wyoming DEQ. Some Pinedale residents have complained of watery eyes, shortness of breath and bloody noses.
According to the Associated Press, the high levels of ozone, which only occur in the winter, are the result of combination of gas industry emissions, snow on the ground, bright sunshine and temperature inversions, in which cool air near the ground is trapped by a layer of warmer air.
The Upper Green River Basin is one of the top gas producing regions in the nation, and hundreds of wells have been drilled there over the past decade. According to the Associated Press, drilling new natural gas wells produces substances that contribute to ozone pollution, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.
According to The New York Times, energy companies have taken steps to improve air quality. Encana Oil and Gas, which has more than 1,000 wells in the area, has switched its rigs from diesel to natural gas and consolidated its operations to reduce evaporation. But many of those changes were instituted four and five years ago, and since then, the number of new wells p in the Upper Green River Valley Basin has continued to grow.