Wyoming is known for its wind-swept vistas and Big Sky (if you’ve ever been there, you know what I mean). But thanks to the relentless work of the natural gas industry, this mostly rural state now has a problem in common with cities like Los Angeles and New York City: smog.
The EPA’s current safety standard for ground-level ozone is 75 parts per billion (ppb), but preliminary data shows that Wyoming’s ozone levels were 124 ppb–exceeding the worst day in Los Angeles during all of 2010; 114 parts per billion.
Where’s all this smog coming from in a state with fewer human residents than any other? Gas drilling.
The gas industry is alive and well in Wyoming, and if you don’t take people or the environment into account (and the Big Gas doesn’t), it’s been a boon for the state’s economy.
Wyoming enjoys one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates, 6.4 percent. And while many other states are running up monumental deficits, lawmakers are projecting a budget surplus of more than $1 billion over the coming year in this state of a half-million people (AP).
But this profit comes at a price.
“They’re trading off health for profit. It’s outrageous. We’re not a Third World country,” said Elaine Crumpley, a retired science teacher who lives just outside Pinedale told the AP.
High levels of ozone happen in the Upper Green River Basin only during the winter. They result from a combination of gas industry emissions, snow on the ground, bright sunshine and temperature inversions, in which cool air near the ground is trapped by a layer of warmer air. Pollution builds up during the day and becomes visible above the horizon as a thin layer of brown smudge — smog — by midafternoon (AP).
According to the Associated Press, residents living near the gas fields in the western part of this outdoorsy state are complaining of watery eyes, shortness of breath and bloody noses because of elevated ozone levels.
If you’ve got 10 minutes, this SkyTruth video explores the environmental impacts of gas and oil drilling in the Upper Green River Valley of western Wyoming:
Image: Smog in Arequipa
Credit: Flickr - madiko83