Five groups petition for ozone designation

Five advocacy organizations asked the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday to designate the Uinta Basin in northeast Utah and Rio Blanco County as out of compliance with federal ozone standards.

The move would be an initial step toward requirements to clean up air in the basin, where pollution from local oil and gas production is the leading source of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide, which react with sunlight to form ozone.

Draft ozone readings last winter in Rio Blanco County already put the area on track to be considered in violation of federal standards, the first time that will have happened in western Colorado. It can’t officially be considered to be in violation until this 
May 1, pending certification of last year’s results.

Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians said designating the Rangely area as a nonattainment area is something the agency technically will have to do, but there’s no deadline for it to do so under the law.

“Without a petition, EPA may act, but it likely won’t be for several years,” he said.

WildEarth Guardians, the Western Colorado Congress, Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment filed this week’s petition. Uintah and Duchesne counties in Utah don’t have a three-year ozone record of violation, but the groups say that will happen soon if conditions persist, and designating them as nonattainment also is warranted.

EPA spokesman Richard Mylott said Wednesday that the agency will review the petition.

“The Uinta Basin is among many areas in the country where EPA is evaluating ozone concerns,” he said.

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the petition seeks to make a Vernal, Utah, problem a Rangely problem. Rangely’s ozone issue is a result of pollution blowing in from other areas, he said, but a nonattainment designation “is sort of taking a punitive approach to our members in Colorado,” he said.

The petition’s filing comes as Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission is considering statewide oil and gas controls to help reduce ozone, traditionally a Front Range problem. The petitioners say the Rangely situation exemplifies the need for such blanket controls, while some industry and government entities in western Colorado question why they are needed in a region most of which isn’t in danger of violating ozone standards.

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