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View Kathleen Sutcliffe's blog posts
10 March 2011, 5:16 PM
Gas drilling and air quality in Wyoming
Pinedale Anticline Natural Gas Field, Upper Green River Valley, Wyoming. Photo Courtesy of SkyTruth.

Which has a worse smog problem ? The car-choked sprawling megalopolis of Los Angeles? Or the wide open plains of Wyoming?

If you guessed LA, you’d be wrong. It’s actually Wyoming.

This depressing tidbit comes courtesy of the oil and gas industry, which is in the midst of a drilling boom that has left the air in Wyoming and other areas cloaked in smog and hazardous air pollutants.

The Associated Press reports that in the drilling rig-studded Upper Green River Basin, ozone levels reached 124 parts per billion last week. That’s well over the federal safety standard and worse than the worst day in Los Angeles all last year.

“I never would have guessed in a million years you would have that kind of danger here,” Debbee Miller, a manager at a snowmobile dealership, told the Associated Press reporter.

And it’s on track to get even worse. A report by the Western Governors’ Association projects that oil and gas operations in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Montana are expected to more than double their emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – like the known carcinogens benzene and formaldehyde- by 2018, when they’ll be pumping 965,000 tons of VOC’s into the air annually.

Right now, many of the region’s oil and gas wells fall squarely within a loophole in the Clean Air Act that means they don’t have to control their air pollution as carefully as larger industrial sources – even though the cumulative air pollution from all of these thousands of wells are far greater than individual ‘major sources.’ Our colleagues at NRDC found one glaring example: in Garfield County, Colorado, 460 gas wells released more than 30 tons of benzene -- nearly 20 times more than was released by a giant industrial oil refinery in Denver.

Now that Wyoming’s air is officially as bad as LA’s thanks to oil and gas drilling, it’s time for Congress to admit that this oil and gas industry loophole in the Clean Air Act has got to go

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