IPAMS takes initiative with Uinta Basin air study

A new air quality study of the eastern Utah basin was released on July 31 not by a government agency or academic researchers, but by the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States.

A new air quality study of eastern Utah’s Uinta Basin was released on July 31 not by a government agency or academic researchers, but by the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States.

IPAMS released the Uinta Basin Air Quality Study (UBAQS) by Environ Corp. a week after the US Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency announced that Colorado Interstate Gas Co. resolved federal air pollution charges involving its operations on the Uinta-Ouray Indian Reservation.

The settlement was 2009’s fourth involving the oil and gas industry in the area. Six independent producers settled three federal air pollution complaints on the reservation on April 17.

The timing of IPAMS releasing the 394-page study was coincidental, one of the association’s officials told me. “We started this project in the summer of 2007. It took us about a year and a half to do the study,” said Kathleen Sgamma, IPAMS government affairs director.

“IPAMS decided to step up to the plate and do the study voluntarily. We noticed there was a lack of data, and UBAQS provides comprehensive regional analysis of air quality in the Uinta Basin from all sources, not just oil and gas,” she explained.

Experienced evaluator

She said that Environ, which has done extensive air quality modeling for government regulators, involved the US Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, EPA and Colorado and Utah state, county, and tribal agencies from the outset.

The study indicates that average ambient concentrations of ozone and criteria pollutants within the Uinta Basin will remain below National Ambient Air Quality Standards through 2012.

It used conservative modeling assumptions which overstated impacts from oil and gas activities to provide public land regulators with a worst-case scenario. Even with that scenario, UBAQS results showed that the basin would remain with air quality attainment standards, IPAMS said.

“It’s unprecedented. I don’t think there’s another comprehensive, basin-wide study that has been conducted anywhere else in the West,” Sgamma said.

Better understanding

IPAMS hopes the study will help regulators better understand the cumulative impacts of producers’ activities within the basin, she said. “It’s going to take government agencies some time to digest this. Obviously, they’ll want to make sure that they understand the results and the scientific basis is sound,” she said.

“But it was done with the input of all managing governmental agencies by a respected third-party contractor with a stellar reputation and an interest in making sure it was a scientific study,” Sgamma continued.

The study’s executive summary suggests that these results should not be considered final. It notes that two ambient air quality monitors installed at Red Wash and Ouray in December 2008 should provide actual measurements indicative of real conditions.

“Updated model results from a continuing UBAQS effort would ensure that air quality within the Uinta Basin is maintained at levels acceptable by regulators and those who live and work in the communities there,” it said.

Contact Nick Snow atnicks@pennwell.com

More in Government