Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

High Pollution Triggers New Regulations for Utah Drillling

Flickr Creative Commons


The energy boom in eastern Utah has brought with it a big pollution problem.

The Utah Division of Air Quality has been studying it, and its now implementing new regulations to cut emissions.

The agency didn’t even know there was a pollution problem in the Uinta Basin until a few years ago. After millions of dollars of studies, the agency is now putting new rules in place to rein in emissions produced by oil and gas development.

“Keep in mind, this is the beginning of the process for developing these rules,” Brock LeBaron, the division’s deputy director, who has overseen much of the research. “It’s not at a final stage by any means, so there’s lots of room for public comment.”

The first four regulations target old equipment that releases volatile organic compounds into the air. VOC’s, as they are called, factor into both summer and winter pollution.

And researches now have evidence that human-caused emissions from energy development make up more than half of all the VOCs in the entire state.

“That seems shocking and bad in one way,” he said. “But on the other hand, these rules are going to make a big, big dent in that.”

Lee Peacock, president of the Utah Petroleum Association, says the rules are aimed at trying to soften impact of ozone regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to impose on the basin.  But he’d prefer to see clearer answers first from the studies on the unique chemistry that’s behind the problem.

“One of the concerns that we had as an industry is that we not get the cart ahead of the horse in terms of getting too many rules in place before we really actually know what the root of the problem is,” he said, “so we’re trying to fix the right things.”

Many energy companies with wells in Utah also do business in Colorado and Wyoming, where similar regulations have already come online.

Peacock says the association will review on Utah’s proposed regulations during a 30-day comment period. 

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.