|Dust is kicked up at the entrance to Harmon Canyon coming from the Nine Mile Canyon side.|
The Environmental Protection Agency in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management has "agreed to conduct additional air quality modeling and assessment" on the proposed West Tavaputs full-field natural gas drilling project before issuing a final environmental impact statement. Though production continues on some 100 existing, approved wells, the process can delay plans by Bill Barrett to expand operations.
A letter sent by the EPA Region 8 Administrator Robert E. Roberts detailed the agreement with Utah BLM Director Selma Sierra on May 23.
"The Draft EIS does not adequately assess the potential air quality impacts of the proposed project and the EPA, therefore, is unable to assess the potential environmental impacts of this project," wrote Roberts.
The letter outlines gaps in information, recommending that more studies will be necessary to show impact to environmental concerns.
"Additional air quality modeling and analysis should be completed," continued Roberts. "And made available for public comment in a Supplemental Draft EIS."
Regarding the existing gas development field, "[There was] no official comment regarding the letter from the EPA," said Jim Felton, spokesman for Bill Barrett Corp.
A supplemental EIS is required when more data is needed to augment existing information or address new alternatives. But in this case it is likely needed to address new areas of impact where disparities occurred in the original EIS.
The EPA letter cites the need for more data in the area of ground-level ozone impacts given changes in the national air quality standards.
Detailed concerns were also raised for visibility, particulates, road dust abatement and greenhouse gas emissions are provided in the letter.
Ground-level ozone is created by sunlight acting on concentrated emissions of utilities, vehicles and chemical solvents. Monitoring devices in the Uintah Basin indicate ozone levels are climbing along with the rise in industrialization.
According the the letter, an air monitoring station in Vernal recorded ozone concentrations last summer at 0.068 parts per million. That's just shy of the EPA's 0.075 ppm standard for an eight-hour.
Other areas of concern in the letter include dust reduction efforts and greenhouse gases emissions control as needing supplemental assessment.
What this means for the future of natural gas extraction in the West Tavaputs field is uncertain. The National Park Service, which is over Dinosaur National Park in Uintah County concurs with the EPA according to Risser. The NPS notes that potential visibility impacts "will occur only four days a year," which add to the challenge they face from a variety of other pollution sources.
"We support the EPA's recommendation that additional cumulative and project-specific air impact modeling should be completed [with] additional air quality emissions controls or mitigation [efforts proposed]," added Risser.