Five-year-old Ellie, like millions of children, suffers severe asthma attacks when smog contaminates the air. In her case, that means there are many days when she simply can’t go outside to play.
Smog, or ozone pollution, aggravates the symptoms of children and adults who suffer from respiratory disease. Scientific research has built a strong case that ozone damages the health of all of us.
Over the years we have come to identify cars as a primary source of ozone pollution. That discovery has led us to better combustion technology and emission regulations, and — I hope — more responsible driving.
But there are other sources of ozone pollution. In Utah, a significant source of ozone is found in emissions from our oil and gas production sites.
Indeed, ozone is not a problem confined to the urban Wasatch Front. Oil and gas producing Uintah and Duchesne counties struggle with high ozone levels that put public health at risk.
Fortunately, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is addressing that source of air pollution with new rulemaking to modernize and improve the state’s oversight of oil and gas operations.
The proposed standards are designed to reduce the amount of smog-forming pollution emitted from oil and gas sites across the state.
Because the DEQ is requesting public comment on these standards, let me offer a few:
First, Ellie and I thank you. The rules are a strong start. And if they are strengthened and adopted they will help reduce Utah’s smog problem. They will protect Ellie and all Utah families from asthma attacks, respiratory problems and other health issues.
I do endorse a few enhancements to the proposed standards that would make them more effective.
The DEQ should strengthen the draft rules on leak detection and repairs to require operators to conduct leak inspections at least twice a year at all production facilities. The current proposal has loopholes that exempt certain sites from this important inspection requirement.
Also, the proposed rules will be more effective in cleaning up our air if they are applied to all hydrocarbon pollutants from oil and gas wells — not just to those emissions called volatile organic compounds (VOC).
By casting a wider net to limit all forms of hydrocarbon air pollution from energy production sites, Utah will stay coordinated with current federal rules and it will encourage additional Utah jobs in the growing industry of methane mitigation. As an added plus, studies confirm that capturing hydrocarbons that are otherwise wasted is very cost-effective.
Finally, I would like to see greater transparency. While the draft rules include record-keeping requirements, they do not require sources to report their compliance efforts.
Transparent reporting allows the public to determine whether the rules are effective and whether the pollution sources are complying with the rules. As with all regulations and public policy, sunshine on the matter is a good thing.
I endorse these enhancements to our common commitment to clean air for reasons beyond Ellie’s asthma. I subscribe to the belief that we are all stewards of our environment and have a moral responsibility for its care.
Scott Howell is a former Utah state senator and Senate minority leader.