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Plant plans add worries about air pollution

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. A group that fights air pollution is arguing that proposals for a new asphalt plant and some natural gas treatment facilities would add to the list of local polluters that threaten to cause cumulative impacts.Frontier Paving is seeking a state air emissions permit in connection with an asphalt plant at the Flag Sand & Gravel pit on Divide Creek southeast of Silt.Chevron USA has applied for permits in association with two triethylene glycol dehydrator units northwest of Parachute, and EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) is asking for a permit for similar dehydrators it would use in the Wallace Creek area south of Battlement Mesa. The dehydrators are used to remove water from natural gas in pipelines.Jeremy Nichols, director of Denver-based Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, worries about the continual addition of new pollution sources in a county that already is suffering reduced air quality, in large part because of natural gas development.The problem is that state regulations focus on big sources of pollution, he said.”But what about when you have all these small sources that collectively add up to one giant source?” he said.

Frontier Paving is proposing a plant that could produce up to 300 tons of hot mix asphalt per hour. It would use controls to limit emissions of particulate matter and fine particulates to about 4 tons per year. It also would be restricted to emitting a few tons per year each of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.Those VOCs would include 420 pounds of toluene and 372 pounds of formaldehyde. Nichols said the toluene emissions would be close to the 500 pounds emitted each year by the Suncor oil refinery in the Denver area.”That’s pretty high,” he said.He said toluene can cause problems such as drowsiness, tremors and cerebral apathy.Frontier Paving representatives did not return calls for comment. The company has existing operations at Flag Sand & Gravel. But Christopher Dann, a spokesman for the state Air Quality Control Division, said the permit application is for a new operation rather than reauthorization of an existing one.Fred Jarman, Garfield County’s director of building and planning, said no special-use permit application for the plant has been filed with the county but none may be required if a pre-existing permit already is in place.Nichols said the plant’s VOC emissions probably would be comparable to what any one natural gas well puts out, but the problem arises because it comes on top of numerous natural gas wells and related facilities in the county.The EnCana dehydrators would emit up to 16 tons of VOCs per year, including nearly 1.5 tons of benzene and more than 3.5 tons of toluene.Together, Chevron’s dehydrators would release more than a half ton of benzene, a substance that can cause cancer, and about 12 tons per year of total VOCs.Nichols said the state probably allows about five to six new similarly polluting facilities per month in the county, generally for oil and gas development. He said the industry is responsible for nearly 70 percent of benzene emissions in the county, whereas cars and trucks generate 57 percent of all benzene nationwide.The energy industry also is the largest source of ozone-forming pollution in the county, releasing about 77 percent of all human-caused, smog-forming emissions, he said.

Nichols’ concerns about the cumulative effects of numerous smaller emitters aren’t lost on the Air Quality Control Division.”That’s our concern as well,” said Ray Mohr, an air quality planner with the division.He said the division is monitoring the situation, and working in conjunction with Garfield County and its ongoing study of air quality. If the county began to exceed air standards, a plan could be implemented that would involve additional controls on polluters, he said.EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said his company recognizes that it creates impacts on air quality from a number of different sources.”Because of that we are constantly looking at efforts to reduce those impacts,” he said.He said it has cut gas flaring and venting during well completion by 64 percent, and voluntarily installed combusters on 38 tanks in the Mamm Creek field south of Rifle to cut VOCs by 30 percent.EnCana has begun using fuel and oil additives in diesel engines associated with its local drilling to cut emissions and increase fuel efficiency, and is researching whether the additives could produce the same benefits in compressors that are powered by natural gas.While some of the county’s increasing air pollution results from other sources, such as increasing traffic, Hock said EnCana is a contributor to that traffic. It has taken steps to reduce the travel its operations require, through means such as installing water pipes to eliminate the need for transportation by truck, and using solar-powered, telemetric systems at wells so workers don’t have to drive to well pads to check on production.He said EnCana also has spent $2 million to comply with new, tougher air-quality regulations that the state has applied to the natural gas industry.Those regulations drew some criticism in western Colorado because they are stricter on the Front Range.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Spring Colorado CO


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