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Environment: Federal appeals court focusing on toxic ozone smog in Utah’s Uinta Basin

EPA challenged on decision to designate polluted region as unclassifiable

Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards.

Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards. Map courtesy Jeremy Nichols/ClimateWest blog.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Environmental advocates and the EPA are facing off in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. today over air quality in Utah’s remote Uinta Basin, where ozone levels often exceed standards set to protect human health.

In a weird twist to the case, the fossil fuel industry is claiming that its own air pollution data is of poor quality and unreliable, and shouldn’t be used by the EPA to designate the Uinta Basin as a nonattainment area, despite the fact that the area regularly sees some of the highest ozone pollution levels in the country.

At issue in the oral arguments is the EPA’s refusal to designate the Uinta Basin as a nonattainment area despite monitoring showing serious air quality degradation in northeastern Utah. The EPA’s decision to designate the area as unclassifiable is a clear violation of the Clean Air Act, according to WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups involved in the case. Continue reading

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Winter ozone formation in Utah linked with atmospheric inversions and persistent snow cover

Oil and gas drillers must to more to protect the airsheds they operate in.

Oil and gas drillers must to more to protect the airsheds they operate in.

Air quality worsening in rural areas affected by fracking

Staff Report

FRISCO — Dangerously high levels of winter ozone pollution in parts of Utah can be traced directly to chemicals released into the air by oil and gas exploration. The volatile organic compounds, common byproducts of fossil fuel exploitation, get trapped under atmospheric inversion layers and sunlight reflected by snow sparks the chemical process that forms the corrosive gas.

For example, in 2013, ozone in Ouray, Utah, exceeded the national air quality standards 49 times during the winter season. By contrast, in the densely populated, urban area of Riverside, California, the standards were exceeded about half that amount that same year, but during the summer. Continue reading

Scientists launch crowdfunding effort to study winter ozone formation in Utah’s fracking patch

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Signs of oil and gas development in eastern Utah  are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Snow may intensify the air quality impacts of energy development

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A team of American and Canadian scientists want to unravel some of the secrets of winter ozone formation related to oil and gas drilling — and they need your help.

University of Washington atmospheric researcher Becky Alexander, who is leading the January research project in Utah’s Uintah Basin has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the field work. The team wants to raise $12,ooo in the next three weeks via their project website at mycroriza.com.

“It’s a global outreach effort,” Alexander said, explaining that crowdfunding for scientific research is a new and growing movement. Grassroots funding helps eliminate some of the administrative overhead costs sometimes associated with traditional sources of money. Sometimes, as much as 50 to 60 percent of federal funding ends up going toward overhead, she explained. Continue reading

Environment: BLM to take a closer look at air pollution from oil and gas drilling on Colorado’s Western Slope

Settlement with conservation groups also will provide more public transparency of permitting activities and environmental data

A computer-generated split-screen image a split-image simulates the average 20 percent best (left) and 20 percent worst 20 percent (right) visibility at the Long’s Peak vista based on an average of monitored data for years 2000-2004.

A computer-generated split-screen image a split-image simulates the average 20 percent best (left) and 20 percent worst 20 percent (right) visibility at the Long’s Peak vista based on an average of monitored data for years 2000-2004.

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The BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office covers some of the most active oil and gas drilling territory in Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Acknowledging a gap in its analysis of Colorado western slope oil and gas drilling activities, the Bureau of Land Management this week agreed to take a much closer look at air pollution resulting from 34 projects covering a total of more than 1,300 proposed wells in the jurisdiction of the agency’s Silt-based Colorado River Valley Field Office.

More than 250 wells have already been drilled, and 54 more have been permitted, but any new permits will require additional analysis.

The settlement came after conservation groups filed a 2011 lawsuit to force the BLM to examine pollution from oil and gas drilling, acknowledged as one of the main sources of regional haze and ozone pollution in the Intermountain West. Continue reading

California air pollution creeps into remote Sierra monument

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Air pollution is a growing concern at Devils Postpile National Monument, near Mammoth Lakes, California. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Wildfires, industrial sources contribute to ozone problems in the Eastern Sierra Nevada

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Devils Postpile National Monument in the eastern Sierra Nevada is about as far as you can get from California’s industrial urban centers, yet air quality at the site has suffered in recent years as pollution blows in from other parts of the state, according to a new U.S. Forest Service-led study.

The monument, near the resort town of Mammoth Lakes, features one of the best examples of columnar basalt formations and is also a gateway to High Sierra wilderness areas bordering on Yosemite National Park.

Ozone precursors (nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds) from wildland fires, as well as ozone from the Bay Area and Central Valley resulted in exceedances of federal air quality standards, as well as state air quality standards during the 2007-2008 study period, at levels that pose a risk to sensitive individuals and indicate a need for long-term ozone monitoring. Continue reading

Ozone pollution could exacerbate global warming, drought impact on forest ecosystems

Researchers try to pinpoint impacts of ozone on forest ecosystems.

Large-scale study suggests ozone-stressed trees use more water

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The impacts of ozone of trees and other plants are well documented, but new large-scale studies suggest the heat-trapping gas may intensify the effects of warmer temperatures and reduce streamflow from forests to rivers, streams, and other water bodies.

Such effects could potentially reduce water supplies available to support forest ecosystems and people in the southeastern United States, according to a new study by the U.S. Forest Service and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Using large-scale models, the researchers found that increased concentrations of ozone in coming decades will aggravate drought and change stream flows, especially in dry seasons. Continue reading

Environment: EPA approves Colorado clean air plan

Regional haze reduction efforts should help reduce pollution along Front Range and in Rocky Mountain National Park

A computer-generated split-screen image a split-image simulates the average 20 percent best (left) and 20 percent worst 20 percent (right) visibility at the Long’s Peak vista based on an average of monitored data for years 2000-2004.

Ozone damage on the leaf of a cutleaf coneflower manifests in the form of black stipules. Photo courtesy RMNP.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A new EPA-sanctioned clean air plan could be just what the doctor ordered for Rocky Mountain National Park, where rangers had to hoist ozone warnings 17 times this summer, after an average of about five to seven each of the last few years.

Ozone readings also spiked at numerous other locations, especially along the Front Range, and farther out into the eastern plains, where ozone previously hasn’t been a big problem.

Officials blamed the long, hot summer, which cooked the deadly mix of nitrogen oxides and other compounds into a smoggy soup that stresses respiratory systems, clouds visibility and harms plants even in the high alpine zone of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Clean air advocates say that, despite tough state rules, increasing oil and gas drilling along the Front Range are contributing to the increased frequency of ozone spikes, and say that global warming adds to the challenges of controlling ozone smog.

The regional haze plan approved by the EPA this week is a good step in the right direction, according to Environmental Defense Fund attorney Pam Campos, explaining that the plan includes hard targets for reducing emissions by retiring some old coal-burning power plants, converting some to natural gas and making sure other industrial facilities cut emissions. Continue reading

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