During Sublette County’s winter months—when sunlight, still air, and snow-cover spur ozone formation—residents face repeated warnings about elevated ozone levels and the resulting risks of going outside. On such days, some are left to stay indoors—including the children that take part in Pinedale Elementary School’s “alternative recess.” Others venture outside only to suffer burning eyes and difficulty in breathing. The stress and uncertainty resulting from these conditions have further diminished the quality of life in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin. As the Sublette County Commission emphasized in a March press release, the region’s residents have become “‘alarmed and concerned with so many alerts and spikes in ozone levels.”
A “nonattainment” area is one in which air quality does not meet the ozone standards set forth by the Federal government in 2008, which is 75 parts per billion over an eight-hour period.he State of Wyoming has one ozone nonattainment area located in the Upper Green River Basin (UGRB) which includes Sublette County and portions of Lincoln and Sweetwater Counties.
This area was classified as a “marginal” nonattainment area by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effective July 20, 2012. On October 1, 2015, EPA strengthened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion (ppb), based on extensive scientific evidence about ozone’s effects on public health and welfare.
In 2005, the Department of Environmental Quality of Wyoming, Air Quality Division, recorded elevated ozone levels in the Upper Green River Basin. These exceedances were related to at least four factors: adequate amounts of precursor chemicals (NOX and VOCs), snow cover, temperature inversions and low winds, and sunlight. http://deq.wyoming.gov/aqd/winter-ozone
CURED formed in 2009 to primarily address the ozone issue. CURED is not opposed to gas development is Sublette County. However, health literature from around the world points to the potential adverse health effects from gas drilling and development.
The Clean Air Act required the EPA to finalize a “nonattainment” designation for the Upper Green River Basin by March 12, 2010. A group of local Wyoming citizens demanded that the Environmental Protection Agency act immediately in confronting the unhealthy ground-level ozone pollution that has resulted from an extraordinary rise in oil-and-gas activity within the state’s Upper Green River Basin.
In March 2011 ground-level ozone exceedences found in Sublette County finally rendered the area in federal violation of the Clean Air Act. In 2011, Sublette County experienced 23 days of unhealthy to very unhealthy air (76 – 116 ppb). Sublette county is the least-populated state in the lower United States, yet the region contains some of the dirtiest air in the nation. Two years exceeds a reasonable amount of time to begin remediation of this situation. We should be well underway with practical measures to solve the problems.
The Upper Green River Basin Citizen’s Ozone Advisory Task Force was formed. Governor appointed members were challenged with the specific task to come up with recommendations to reduce ozone. Membership was composed among many diverse interest groups; industry, natural resource agencies, local citizens, state and local government representatives, and environmental organizations. This good idea was led by University of Wyoming’s
“The purpose of the former Upper Green River Basin Air Quality Citizens Advisory Task Force was to consider and advise on potential solutions to reduce ozone. It accomplished this through mutual education; increasing transparency in process; fostering communication among citizens, the WDEQ, other governmental agencies and other stakeholders; and coordinating information between governmental agencies.”
Results of this effort included suggestions to “brownbag your lunch, don’t drive, don’t idle, don’t run your small gas-powered engines and observe ozone action days.” CURED found these suggestions far from adequate to address real solutions. Task Force Recommendations relating to reducing drill rig and fracking engine emissions were not included in the DEQ’s action for the short-term category.
The past several winter ozone seasons experienced little ozone activity. They were low-snow years. During the winter season of 2016/17, we experienced high levels of ozone; we had a good snow pack all winter.
CURED’s objective is to get out of and stay out of non-attainment, not only under the current situation, but also in light of the future increased levels of activity and the possible lowering of the national ozone standard.