Changes loom for Wyo. oil and gas guidelines

Wyoming News Exchange

By Ramsey Scott

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange


CHEYENNE — Wyoming is working on new guidelines for oil and gas production that aim to curb emissions leaks in new and modified production sites.

But environmentalists in the state think they're only a sliver of what is necessary to protect the state's air.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality's Air Quality Advisory Board is considering changes to its guidelines for new and modified oil and gas production sites. The guidelines would apply if a company modifies a site or wants to start drilling instead of waiting for permits.

Wyoming allows a company to produce for 90 days before permitting, as long as it uses the presumptive best available control technology established by the DEQ, said department spokesman Keith Guille.

One of the biggest changes, Guille said, would be requiring those sites to do biannual checks for fugitive emissions leaks. Those are classified as leaks from equipment, like valves and pressure relief devices, and not emissions from something like a stack or a chimney vent.

"The fugitive emission (change) is the most important part. We're now having companies go out on a biannual basis to check for those fugitive emissions leaks," Guille said. "We didn't require that before in the statewide area."

Jill Morrison, executive director of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said the biannual checks aren't enough, and companies should be required to do quarterly checks to find leaks quickly and prevent increased pollution. 

Another change would be what constitutes modification to a production site. The DEQ removed maintenance activities from what constitutes modifications, along with an activity related to heavy oil production, because it said it isn't likely to produce significant emission changes.

In previous guidelines, the DEQ also considered a site modified if it increased production or major equipment was being installed that had the potential to increase emissions. The DEQ is considering changes to an emission-based gauge and not a production-based gauge.

In the 2016 guidelines, a production site was considered to be modified if production increased. Now a modification designation would be triggered if emissions reach above a certain threshold. 

But a major sticking point with environmentalists about the modification change is what standard the state plans to use to gauge those emissions. The DEQ has proposed to use standards from 2010, which allow for more emissions, as opposed to the 2016 guidelines. Under the 2010 guidelines, for example, 10 tons per year of uncontrolled emissions from tanks was allowed, compared to the 6 tons in 2016. 

In a report about the guideline changes, the DEQ said it relied on the 2010 numbers "instead of the current (more stringent) thresholds applicable to new facilities because of the generally higher costs to install pollution controls at existing facilities due to existing site configuration changes."

Guille said the reason DEQ is considering moving back to the 2010 standards is the high cost and issues older productions sites could have in retrofitting those sites. The DEQ wanted to make sure those older sites would be encouraged to install new equipment and reach the 10 ton threshold, as opposed to discouraging them from making any changes because 6 tons would be harder and more expensive to reach. 

"It's good for everyone because you're reducing emissions in the long run," Guille said. 

Morrison said it didn't make sense for DEQ to be moving backward in its level of allowed emissions. The technology exists for companies to retrofit older facilities to reach the 2016 standards, she said, and the state shouldn't be taking a step back when it comes to air quality.

She said instead the DEQ should use the standards it set for the Upper Green River Basin, where severe increases in ozone pollution forced the state to enact strict rules on emissions. Those standards have proven to be cost-effective and prevent pollution in that area, Morrison said.

"It's the most cost-effective way to control pollution," Morrison said. "And we're saying they should apply it across the state."

Morrison said the reasons for such lax guidelines was the state made too many compromises with the oil and gas industry, something Guille pushed back against. He said the guideline changes didn't need to be put out for public comment, but the DEQ wanted to get as much input as possible from the public and environmental groups. 

The Air Quality Advisory Board heard public comment on proposed changes Tuesday in Casper, and Guille said the new guidelines should be finalized by later this fall. Changes could be made in the interim based on public comment.


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