LVE cited for gas emissions
By Benjamin Graham, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: February 15, 2013
A pipeline that moves natural gas to Jackson Hole is emitting too much flammable gas into the atmosphere.
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality slapped Lower Valley Energy with a notice of violation last month, saying the energy co-op was routing vapors through a boiler, rather than a permitted emission control device. As a result, gas emissions are not as low as they are supposed to be, said Martell Brower, director of gas operations at Lower Valley.
A DEQ inspector observed the infraction Oct. 26 at Lower Valley’s Rim Station, along the Hoback pipeline in Sublette County. The station compresses natural gas, which is pumped to Teton County from the Merna field, near Daniel.
The noncompliant boiler, which hasn’t been fixed, could be costly for Lower Valley. Wyoming law allows the state to charge the utility company up to $10,000 a day as long as the problem persists.
Lower Valley’s compressor problem couldn’t happen in a worse location. Sublette County often has ozone-based air pollution that results in smog that rivals air quality in Los Angeles.
Gas development releases pollutants, including volatile organic chemicals, which are known to be the precursors of ozone.
The two sides are in negotiations over the penalty.
“What it comes down to is that they didn’t have the right controls that they agreed to in the permit,” said Keith Guille, a DEQ spokesperson.
“It’s not an emergency issue. The penalty is not to shut down the facility. The idea is to try to get them back into compliance.”
Lower Valley is waiting for warmer weather before installing the appropriate combustion device.
“It’s a facility that requires quite a bit of construction,” Brower said. “Bondurant does not lend itself to that kind of work right now. We’re waiting for the snow to go and the frost in the ground to melt.”
Lower Valley’s permit, which was issued in June 2009, requires 98 percent of the gas castoff from the station to be combusted.
“Natural gas has water in it,” Brower said. “In the process of taking the water out of the gas, some of the gas that is entrained in the water does not get burned.” That is a normal part of the process, he said.
But the Sublette County station uses a boiler, rather than the permit-required condenser and combustion device, to burn the extra gas. And it isn’t always turned on, Brower said.
“It’s a small issue, but is an issue,” he said. “Lower Valley is working to correct that.”
In the notice sent to Brower, DEQ air quality division administrator Steven Dietrich said he is considering recommending that the violation be referred to the state attorney general’s office and that a suit be filed in district court to recover the fines.