BLM official explains agency’s Garfield County air monitoring program
Post Independent Staff
SILT — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, in its efforts to keep track of air pollution from oil and gas activities in the Garfield County region, relies heavily on data gathered by the Garfield County Environmental Health Department, according to the federal agency’s air quality management specialist.
Shauna Kocman, a petroleum and environmental engineer at the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt, recently gave a presentation to the county’s Energy Advisory Board in Rifle about what the agency is doing to monitor potential air pollution from more than 2,200 gas wells on public lands, or roughly a quarter of the 10,300 or so wells operating in Garfield County, mostly on private land.
“In this area,” she told the Post Independent on Wednesday, “the state and Garfield County have really good air quality monitoring programs,” referring to air quality monitoring stations in western Garfield County as well as in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Data from those monitoring stations are available on the county’s website (www.garfield-county.com), on the Environmental Health page.
Speaking to the Post Independent from her office, Kocman said her presentation had nothing to do with a recent announcement that the BLM will be reanalyzing air pollution data regarding up to 1,300 wells in the region, following the settlement of a lawsuit brought by several area environmental organizations.
“That was just a coincidence,” she said.
Kocmar explained that her work is to keep track of air quality levels in an “air shed” that covers parts of Garfield, Mesa, Routt, Eagle and Pitkin counties.
She monitors primarily for “criteria pollutants,” which are common contaminants found all over the U.S. that have been identified as such by state and federal air pollution standards — ozone, particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.
In addition, she said, she monitors for “hazardous air pollutants,” a list of scores of compounds maintained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that can cause cancer or other health problems, some of which are known to be associated with oil and gas drilling.
The air pollution monitoring, cataloging and mitigation, according to Kocmar’s PowerPoint presentation to the EAB, is incorporated into the agency’s Resource Management Plan (RMP), and is part of the agency’s efforts to “protect ecological, geologic, historic and cultural characteristics” in the region and to prevent the acidification of area lakes.
Using several different modeling methods, she reported, the agency calculates the likely effects of different levels and sources of pollution, conducting studies that can take up to 18 months to complete.
“We monitor to see what future oil and gas development will do and how that will impact the air quality” over the region, she told the Post Independent.
Then, she continued, the BLM either uses its own monitoring devices or, in the case of Garfield County, uses monitoring data that has already been collected, to check on the validity of the models in projecting regional pollution values.
The data generated by the models and the air quality monitoring itself are used for environmental impact statements (EIS) for leasing programs and for RMPs, or environmental analyses (EA) for particular applications to drill on a lease.
She said the agency is not yet set up to conduct specific follow-up monitoring to compare actual air quality findings with the levels projected by the models, but added, “That itself is a direction that BLM is headed in.
“In terms of regulating actual emissions, the state does that,” she explained, noting that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is in charge of that part of the pollution-control effort aimed at the oil and gas industry.
The exception, she said, is concerning dust control, or “particulate matter,” which is a key part of her monitoring and mitigation work.
“We do ensure that that happens, through inspections,” she said of dust control measures required by federal rules.
The agency’s interest in dust suppression, she explained, is to prevent visual degradation at nearby national parks and monuments, as well as possible negative health impacts for nearby residents, which can occur is there is too much dust kicked up by oil and gas activities.
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