Letter: Protect the air we breathe from oil, gas operations
From mid-December to mid-February of this year, Grand Junction, Delta and Montrose residents experienced a record of 47 days exceeding federal air quality levels due to inverted cold air which hovered over the valley.
On these days, high concentrations of toxic particulates called PM 2.5 can be inhaled and lodged deep into lungs and hearts, resulting in serious health problems. The inversion is natural, the pollution is not.
During summer months, the main contributor to our growing problem of air pollution is ozone. Ozone is the key ingredient of smog and forms when two pollutants,�volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx),�react with sunlight. When smog is inhaled, the effects are akin to getting a sunburn on the inside of your lungs. Ozone can trigger asthma attacks, reduce lung function, and even cause premature death. Levels above 75 parts per billion are considered a health hazard. The Grand Valley has hovered in the 60s at times.
A recent study released by the University of Colorado reports that VOC and NOx are directly linked to emissions by oil and gas operations making the industry a significant contributor to ozone pollution.
In January, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the draft Grand Junction Resource Management Plan (RMP) that will establish public land use allocations including oil and gas leasing for the next 20+ years. Considering our past and present air quality, we implore federal agencies to do everything within their power to ensure protection of the air we breathe, not to mention the breathtaking views we all treasure.
In the current draft plan, all alternatives proposed by the BLM predict a 80% increase in ozone-contributing VOCs by oil and gas operations. However, in the preferred alternative more than 80% of the planning area is proposed to be open to oil and gas leasing. This does not represent balanced use of the many resources the Grand Junction Field Office is charged with managing. Reducing the levels of authorized oil and gas development in sensitive areas could greatly reduce our air quality problems.
BLM commits to conducting a regional air quality modeling study within one year of completing the RMP. We applaud this effort but fear it may be too little, too late. Regional air quality modeling must be conducted before the completion of the RMP and the designation of lands available for leasing. Without the collection of data from this study, how can the BLM propose to make educated decisions?
Because VOCs are released together with methane, opportunities exist to reduce VOC emissions and methane, saving money for industry. Vapor recovery units can capture emissions from tanks and other sources, reducing emissions by 95% or more; controlling VOCs from leaks is simply a matter of better maintenance and common-sense regulations.
BLM must commit to requiring Best Management Practices (BMPs) such as these in their final planning documents. We ask that BLM enforce these regulations before our air quality worsens and our region exceeds federal clean air standards.
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