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Oil, gas industry acts to cut pollution in Wyoming

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Oil and gas companies finding innovative ways to reduce pollution from Wyoming operations

NEW YORK (Associated Press) – In an effort to reduce air pollution in southwest Wyoming natural gas fields, oil and gas companies are adding new emission control systems to their drilling rigs’ engines and replacing polluting trucks with pipelines, industry officials say.

One major operator, Shell Exploration & Production, has committed to retrofitting the huge engines on its drilling rigs with equipment similar to the catalytic converters used on automobiles. Shell is among the operators in the area between Pinedale and Rock Springs where the booming Pinedale Anticline and Jonah fields are located.

Jim Sewell, staff environmental engineer with Shell, said he knows of no other field in the United States where the emissions control systems are being used on land drilling rigs.

“Pinedale-Jonah seem to be leading the way as far as emission reductions related to oil and gas,” Sewell said.

David Finley, administrator of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Division, said retrofitting rig engines is an important part of cutting pollution in southwest Wyoming _ and isn’t cheap.

“It’s a significant capital cost to take out three very large engines, ranging up to about a million bucks per rig to do that,” Finley said.

Shell, Ultra Petroleum and Questar Exploration and Production Co. _ the three major companies operating in the Pinedale Anticline _ have all been involved in trying to reduce emissions by retrofitting rig engines, installing pollution controls on other equipment and facilities and working to reduce truck traffic, which causes visibility problems from dust.

The industry has been working to clean up their operations because excessive ozone readings recorded previously in southwest Wyoming could lead to severe restrictions. Drilling rigs are the single biggest source of pollution in the fields.

“They are all very aware of the issue out there, and if the ozone issue continues to move up there’s going to be increasing pressure to address it,” said Ken Peacock of the Bureau of Land Management office in Wyoming.

Shell has eight rigs operating on the Pinedale Anticline. One was retrofitted with the emission control system to test its effectiveness.

Tests show the retrofitted rig cut nitrogen oxide emissions by about 90 percent, compared to rigs without the emission control systems, Sewell said.

“That’s why we’ve gone ahead and ordered the rest of the catalyst units for the other seven drill rigs that we have,” he said.

Ultra also has been involved in testing the pollution systems, and the information has been shared with other companies operating in the area, Sewell said. Ultra and Questar have yet to commit to installing the systems on their rigs.

Questar, which has eight rigs on the Pinedale field, in 2005 installed a liquids gathering system to cut down on truck traffic in the field. The system uses pipelines instead of trucks to move various fluids associated with the drilling and production, according to Kevin Williams, Questar’s district manager of operations.

“Since we put it online in November of 2005, we’ve eliminated over 44,000 trucks that is the traditional method of getting rid of the liquids,” Williams said.

Shell and Ultra are now in the process of installing their own pipeline systems.

“The key thing about all this is Shell and Ultra are also now going to be installing this system, which at peak production for everybody is expected to eliminate upward of 165,000 truck trips a year,” Williams said.

The companies say they’re open to anything that would help cut pollution from their operations.

“The technology continues to change and we’re always looking at new solutions to reduce these respective emissions,” said Tab McGinley, land manager for Ultra, which has 15 rigs in the Pinedale field.

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