Steamboat Springs The Routt County Board of Commissioners is asking the city of Steamboat Springs to split the cost of new air pollution-monitoring equipment intended to detect changes in the amount of harmful ozone in the air here.
The commissioners sent a letter to the city last month asking it to split the $135,485 needed to purchase an ozone analyzer to be placed atop the Routt County Courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs and manage the data for three years. Beyond the first three years, the annual costs would drop to about $15,000.
Mike Zopf, director of Routt County's Department of Environmental Health, said Tuesday that he is preparing a report he will give during a joint meeting of the Steamboat Springs City Council and county commissioners Feb. 12.
“It’s something we do want to pursue, but we don’t think there’s urgency in the short term,” Zopf said.
Instead, the county hopes to establish baseline data in case the amount of ozone here begins to change.
Ozone is a form of pollution that is a significant problem on Colorado’s Front Range, but it also has become an issue in areas like Pinedale, Wyo., and the Uintah Basin, of Utah, near Vernal, where oil and gas drilling is further along than it is in Northwest Colorado. It negatively impacts public health when it forms near the Earth’s surface.
Sunlight increases the formation of ozone, and in mountain valleys, the reflectance of persistent snowpack can be a factor.
Zopf said the goal here is to obtain data that can be documented at levels of reliability that will satisfy state and federal regulations should the need arise in the future.
The question of the possibility of ozone pollution occurring here came up a year ago in the context of public hearings for new oil well permits in Routt County.
Gordon Pierce, of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, told county officials in January 2012 that the topography of the upper Yampa Valley does not foster the same powerful temperature inversions that plague areas like the Uintah Basin.
“We don’t have the potential for winter ozone in Routt County yet,” Pierce said a year ago. “It’s one we’ll keep an eye on, but we don’t see that Routt County has the potential at the present time.”
He is the technical services program manager for the Air Pollution Control Division.
However, ozone attributed to energy exploration, among other sources, is a big enough problem on Colorado’s Front Range that the Air Pollution Control Division launched a series of stakeholder meetings at its Denver headquarters last week to talk about changes to air pollution reporting and permitting requirements for oil and gas operations.
Routt County’s position, Zopf said, has been that state government needs to conduct more routine inspections of oil wells and drilling sites to monitor them for air pollution.
Since last winter, Zopf said, Shell Oil has installed an ozone monitoring device at one of its well sites near Hayden, and the Desert Research Institute lab on Storm Peak is contemplating monitoring ozone levels, as well.
Zopf added that it’s understood by Routt County that oil and gas wells aren’t the only source of the pollutants that play a role in the formation of ozone in the atmosphere.
Zopf said the county and city have a history of collaborating on environmental monitoring, from the reduction of wood-burning fireplaces and stoves in another era to the purchase of equipment to track particulate air pollution and, just last year, an effort to expand water quality monitoring in the Yampa River.
The ozone monitoring and interpretation of data with computer software is more technical than his staff is prepared to tackle, Zopf said, and the county sought and received proposals for the initial program from five consulting firms.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com