This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
There comes a time when people faced with a choice between healthy air and industry have to take action if they want to avoid illness and premature death. Uinta Basin residents and state officials seem to have come to that point.
Although air monitoring is spotty in the basin, two remote locations with monitors, Red Wash and Ouray, recorded 40 days last winter when ozone levels reached "unhealthy" levels as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency. The basin ozone, caused primarily by pollution from oil and gas drilling, equaled that of the worst urban areas in the nation during that period. And Uintah County exceeded the high summertime ozone levels in Salt Lake County a dozen times last summer.
The EPA regularly monitors only areas where at least 50,000 people live, and the population of Uintah County is only about 30,000. And the Utah Division of Air Quality is not planning to increase monitoring, despite the high readings.
Unfortunately, ignorance about the extent of the pollution and a lack of oversight by federal agencies suit officials in Uintah County just fine. The County Commission and state legislators say they want to encourage the oil and gas industry to cut emissions voluntarily in order to avoid any mandates from the federal government. If polluters were apt to voluntarily cut emissions and bear the expense, there would be no need for federal mandates. But we cannot expect corporations to act contrary to their bottom-line interests.
Ozone is an odorless, colorless gas created when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides from car exhaust, smoke and other industrial emissions are cooked under the sun. It is known to worsen respiratory ailments and cause premature death. The financial benefits from the lower emission standards set by the EPA this year, including fewer premature deaths and lower medical costs, are estimated at $13 billion to $100 billion nationwide. And that's not counting the savings in personal suffering.
But the people who live and work in the Uinta Basin are not reaping those benefits. And the lack of monitoring and enforcement means there is no incentive to improve the current unhealthy air or prevent it getting worse. Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, says the additional ozone from thousands of proposed wells would add as much ozone as the emissions of 13 million cars.
The DAQ should treat the basin as it does the Wasatch Front and require polluters to meet federal standards.