‘Lucking out’ for Wyoming’s winter smog

Air quality gets a boost from the state’s infamous sagebrush and wind.


Northwest Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin has a number of things in abundance. Two of those are wind and sagebrush. Two more are natural gas and ozone pollution. And as Wyoming moves toward new air quality rules, we’re learning more about how those four things are related.

Wyoming regulators and the oil and gas industry have done a “pretty amazing” job of rolling back some major pollution problems, says Russell Schnell, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But ozone pollution is also driven by meteorology, he says, and that’s where the Upper Green holds a few natural aces.

Smoke from flaring operations at a natural gas well near Pinedale, Wyoming. Photograph by Flickr user William Belveal.

The basin lies between the Wind River Mountains and the Wyoming Range and provides billions of dollars in natural gas each year. Most of that comes from the Jonah Field, which hosts thousands of wells and their attendant pipelines, evaporation ponds, compressor stations and other infrastructural bits and bobs. All of that plumbing can leak natural gas, a which includes methane and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are pollutants that help cause ground-level ozone — better known as smog.

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