Group wants drilling shutdown over ozone

A conservation group says the Bureau of Land Management should stop authorizing further energy development in and around Rio Blanco County until it addresses the fact that ozone readings in Rangely have exceeded the federal action limit.

“Our request is simple: stop polluting the air and start fixing the problem,” Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ climate and energy program director, said in a news release.

But Colorado BLM spokesman Steven Hall said he can’t imagine shutting down “all energy development on public lands overnight without even being sure that that’s the problem.”

WildEarth Guardians had pointed out earlier this week that draft ozone readings this winter put Rio Blanco County on track to be found in violation of federal standards, the first time that will have happened in western Colorado. The violation would be based on the fourth-highest annual ozone reading over a three-year average exceeding 0.075 parts per million. While this year’s reading has not yet been certified, the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division expects that it will be, which could lead to the county being declared a non-attainment area and pollution-control measures being required.

The division believes much of the pollution is coming from the Uinta Basin — which is centered nearby in Utah and has heavy oil and gas activity — but that some of it also originates locally.

WildEarth Guardians said the BLM has been contending that ramped-up drilling and expanded coal mining wouldn’t jeopardize air quality within lands under the jurisdiction of the White River Field Office, which are mostly confined to Rio Blanco County. But the ozone readings show the air already isn’t safe, and yet the field office has released a draft plan proposing allowing up to 15,000 new wells in the region, it said. WildEarth Guardians said that plan needs revising to account for the ozone findings.

Said Hall, “Some folks say no to anything until you analyze everything. That is a good approach if your goal is to stop everything.”

He said the wells contemplated by the plan “can have exceptionally stringent air-quality mitigations placed on them” in order to address the issue without shutting down development.

WildEarth Guardians also is challenging the BLM’s plans later this month to sell a new coal lease being sought by Blue Mountain Energy for the Deserado Coal Mine near Rangely. That will result in more ozone precursor emissions from both the mine and from its sole customer, the Bonanza Power Plant across the state line, WildEarth Guardians said.


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