Along the southern boundary of Greater Yellowstone in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, a proposed natural gas development continues to draw public criticism for threatening the area’s legendary wildlife and Wild and Scenic Hoback River. And now, there are growing concerns about air pollution spreading into surrounding wilderness areas and Grand Teton National Park.
If Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP) is allowed to drill 136 wells in the Upper Hoback Basin, emissions from the project could impair visibility in the nearby Gros Ventre Wilderness and Shoal Creek Wilderness Study Area.
“Additionally, it is important to note that cumulatively, for this project, it increases the number of impaired visibility days in Grand Teton National Park,” said Steff Kessler, The Wilderness Society’s Wyoming program manager.
Across the West, emissions from oil and gas drilling continue to push ozone air pollution to unprecedented highs. Ozone is a key ingredient of smog and can cause asthma attacks, irreversible lung damage, and even premature death.
“It’s appalling that in Greater Yellowstone, an environment where you should feel safe about air quality, I’m going to damage my lungs,” said Dan Bailey, a Wilderness Society member and tri-athlete who lives near the proposed drilling area.
Bailey’s family homesteaded in the Hoback Basin, which for generations has provided a southern gateway to Greater Yellowstone.
“You come over the rim, and it’s an incredible view. You can say, ‘I have arrived in Greater Yellowstone.’ You don’t need a sign to tell you something big has changed,” said Bailey. “But if this project goes forward, those views will be lost for a lifetime.”
In addition to ozone, the proposed drilling will also spew Volatile Organic Compounds like benzene, toluene and formaldehyde—as well as nitrogen oxide—into the atmosphere. All will combine to reduce visibility, harm public health and threaten one of Wyoming’s economic engines.
There’s no way to calculate what smoggy views of the Grand Teton could do to Wyoming’s tourism industry. But at a recent public meeting in Pinedale, Wyo., Kim Floyd with the Wyoming AFL-CIO offered this reminder: “Our number two economic indicator in this state is a category called ‘Hunting, Angling, Recreation and Tourism.’ It brings in over $2 billion a year into this state’s economy. And it is a renewable resource.”
Can’t repeat past mistakes
The proposed drilling in the Upper Hoback has renewed air quality concerns in Sublette County, home to some of the largest natural gas fields in the nation.
Emissions from the Pinedale Anticline and Jonah Fields have created air pollution problems once found only in big cities. That’s why we are working with Bridger-Teton National Forest and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to insist past air quality mistakes are not repeated in the Upper Hoback, which sits at the far north end of Sublette County.
You can help by submitting comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for PXP’s 136-well proposal. Tell the Bridger-Teton National Forest you support Alternative E, the buy-out option. This win-win solution would protect wildlife, water and air quality by paying off PXP and permanently retiring its drilling leases.
In case a buy-out cannot be negotiated, the Bridger-Teton must require the installation of an ambient air quality monitor in the Hoback/Bondurant basin. This tool will establish baseline air quality prior to any development. In other words, it will measure the purity of Greater Yellowstone’s blue skies before gas field emissions sully views from the Hoback all the way to the Grand Teton.
Take action today to help protect the Upper Hoback region and the Grand Teton National Park. The comment deadline is March 11.
Watch this video, which captures the concerns of Wyoming Range citizens:
Upper Hoback Basin, Wyoming. Photo by Diane Corsick.
Grand-Teton National Park. Photo by Jeff L. Fox.