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Uintah Basin: Air Quality and Energy Development
What We Know
As oil and gas production continues to surge in the Uintah Basin a collaboration of local, state, and federal governments along with energy companies and the Ute Tribe are working proactively to address ozone pollution concerns that could limit growing energy development through the federal National Environmental Protection Act, called NEPA. These organizations have pooled funding and equipment to collaboratively study unusual winter ozone formation in the Basin.
People are surprised to hear that air quality is a concern in a rural area with a sparse population. Over the past several years, however, air quality monitors have shown that concentrations of both PM2.5 and ozone are at times at or above the current standard. Both PM2.5 and ozone can impact human health and the environment when concentrations are elevated beyond the levels set by the National Ambient Air Quality Standard.
Monitored winter 2011 ozone levels reached a high 8-hour average value of 139 parts per billion (ppb) during inversion conditions—levels nearly twice as high as the federal health standard. The Utah Division of Air Quality (UDAQ) wintertime monitoring studies for 2007, 2008, and 2009 have shown that during inversions PM2.5 concentrations are at or above the standard and can be as high as those seen along the heavily populated Wasatch Front. EPA and the Ute Indian Tribe are monitoring ozone at four additional locations around the Basin: Myton, White Rocks, Ouray, and Red Wash. At this time, UDAQ is uncertain what factors contribute to or cause these elevated levels.
The problem is not confined to the Uintah Basin. Throughout the country, ambient concentrations of rural air pollution are rising as EPA standards are being revised downward. These two circumstances combine to create an almost perfect backdrop for significant air quality challenges. Consider that within recent years the EPA has found new information about health impacts from air pollution that have led it to reduce the 24-hour standard for PM2.5 by nearly 50%. Couple that with the EPA plans to revisit the ozone standard and its impact on health in 2013, and the magnitude of the challenge emerges.
One thing is clear: If rural areas do not meet the new federal health standards for air quality, public health and economic development could be adversely affected.