Air Resources

Success Stories

Air resource specialists work with programs throughout the BLM to better understand air quality issues and trends, ensure that energy exploration and development is consistent with land management and air quality requirements, manage wildland and prescribed fires, and protect air quality and air quality related values. The following summaries provide a sample of the BLM’s recent successes:

Managing Air Resources in Connection with Oil & Gas Activities on BLM Lands

 Oil welle in Nevada
Oil wells, pump jacks, and related equipment dot the oil field in Railroad Valley, 
southwest of Ely, Nevada.

In keeping with President Obama’s strategy to expand domestic oil and gas production safely and responsibly, three agencies in the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) — the BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service — EPA, and the USDA Forest Service agreed to an interagency approach to address air quality issues associated with oil and gas development on Federal lands. A new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) establishes common procedures for the agencies to follow in analyzing and mitigating the potential air quality impacts of proposed oil and gas activities on federally managed public lands through the NEPA process.

The MOU consists of three items.

  • The interagency agreement, the MOU itself
  • An Appendix that includes two tables and a matrix that describes air quality models
  • An example design of a reusable modeling framework for air quality modeling

The NEPA Air Quality MOU provides for:

  • consultation among the five participating agencies throughout the NEPA process
  • common procedures for determining what type of air quality analyses are appropriate and when air modeling is necessary
  • specific provisions for analyzing and discussing impacts to air quality related values (AQRVs) and for mitigating impacts to air quality and AQRVs; and
  • a dispute resolution process to facilitate timely resolution of differences among agencies.

The agreement builds upon the best practices applied in a recent successful interagency collaboration on a major natural gas development project in Utah.

Anticipated Benefits of the MOU:

Fewer delays that have bogged down major Federal oil and gas development projects and more efficient air quality and AQRV analyses.

Improved Federal decision-making and increased transparency in the NEPA process for oil and gas decisions benefiting all stakeholders involved.

Increased certainty for agencies and project proponents alike.

Detailed information on the new NEPA Air Quality MOU can be obtained by viewing the National Training Center’s August 10, 2011, “M Street Live!” satellite broadcast.

Air Quality Analysis for the Greater Natural Buttes Area Gas Development Project

The proposed Greater Natural Buttes Area Gas Development Project had been delayed in part over concerns about its potential impacts on air quality in the Uintah Basin, which has seen some of the highest winter time ozone levels in the nation in some recent years. During 2011, the BLM and EPA worked closely with the project proponent to develop a mitigation plan to significantly reduce the project’s potential impacts on air quality in the surrounding area.

The Greater Natural Buttes Project Area encompasses approximately 162,911 acres in an existing gas producing area located in Uintah County, Utah. Total new surface disturbance under the BLM preferred alternative would be approximately 8,147 acres, or 5% of the total Greater Natural Buttes Project Area. The proposed major natural gas development project would include up to 3,675 new gas wells and potentially produce more than 6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas over 10 years.

BLM obtained commitments from the applicant to use a host of readily available air pollution control technologies, including a pilot project to evaluate the feasibility of using low-emission natural gas fueled drilling rigs to mitigate impacts associated with its project. The innovative adaptive management strategy proposed for this project will allow future development to be informed by subsequent analyses planned by the BLM.

For more, see The Greater Natural Buttes Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Wintertime Ozone Study in Utah

The BLM Utah State Office is using a collaborative process for an air quality study of the Uinta Basin, which has experienced significant interest in oil and gas development on Federal lands and high wintertime ozone levels in recent years. The pioneering study involves using the data collected through monitoring together with air quality models to estimate the future impacts from reasonably expected oil and gas development. A Technical Advisory Group of representatives of Federal land managers, the EPA, and the state environmental agency are providing advice on all aspects of the modeling process to ensure that the resulting modeling platform will be widely acceptable for use in future NEPA analyses to inform BLM decisions authorizing specific oil and gas projects.

Additional information on the can be found on the Uintah Basin: Air Quality and Energy Development page of the Utah DEQ website.

Four Corners Air Quality Task Force

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area in the Four Corners region
Pristine air over the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area in the Four Corners region.

The BLM participates in the Four Corners Air Quality Group, a diverse stakeholder forum which evolved from the Four Corners Air Quality Task Force in 2008 to continue discussion of air quality issues and solutions in the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. The Four Corners Air Quality Task Force was convened by New Mexico and Colorado in 2005 to focus on developing mitigation strategies to address increasing ozone pollution in the region.

In New Mexico, at the State’s request, the BLM Farmington Field Office has included a condition of approval (COA) in all applications for permits to drill since August 2005, requiring oil and gas operators to install engines rated for low emissions of nitrogen oxides. This COA limits emissions that contribute to ozone formation. The BLM also has assisted in funding an ozone monitoring site at Navajo Lake in northern New Mexico.

Air Resource Impacts of Wildland Fire and Prescribed Burns

Smoke from wildland fires and prescribed burns can have dramatic effects on air quality and visibility. Prescribed fires (also known as controlled burns or prescribed burns) are purposefully ignited on wildlands to meet specific land management objectives, such as reducing wildfire risk, improving forest health, site preparation, and improving rangeland vegetation. Wildfires are unwanted wildland fires that may be caused by such things as negligent human behavior or lightning. BLM efforts to respond to wildfires or plan and conduct prescribed fires require smoke management in accordance with the Clean Air Act, EPA, state, tribal, or local regulations and policies, and interagency smoke management policies.

The BLM Fire and Aviation Directorate, which is based at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho, leads the BLM’s wildland fire activities. The BLM Air Program supports those activities by tracking Clean Air Act regulatory and policy developments relevant to smoke management and air quality. A BLM air resource specialist also participates in the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) Interagency Smoke Committee (SmoC), which aims to coordinate and integrate air resource and fire management objectives. SmoC includes representatives of federal agencies engaged in fire management, state and local regulatory agencies, and interest groups.

Additional information on the BLM’s smoke management activities can be found at:

The National Interagency Fire Center web site, which provides detailed information on tools for managing wildfires and emissions, air pollution regulations, training opportunities, and other technical resources.

The BLM Fire and Aviation Directorate web site, which provides information on fire suppression, preparedness, predictive services, fuels management, fire planning, community assistance and protection, prevention and education, and safety.

The BLM Oregon/Washington State Office web site, which provides background information, terminology, and other information about prescribed burns.


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