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Agencies work together to set air quality guidelines

Several agencies are working together to create a plan to protect air quality on federal land.

While those in the oil and gas industry used to have to go to a number of agencies to get permits for oil and gas activities on federal lands and were often told to do different things, now there will one set of recommendations and clearer communication of what an air quality analysis is and what will be the criteria used.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency have collaborated to create a Memorandum of Understanding, said North Dakota BLM Field Manager Lonny Bagley at a BLM meeting Thursday in


"This MOU is an effort to get the federal agencies' house in order, to get us working together to ensure protection of clean air as oil and gas development proceeds," Bagley said.

It will be used to analyze and address potential impacts to air quality and air quality related values (such as visibility) associated with oil and gas development on federal lands when air quality analyses are deemed


Before this MOU, federal agencies responsible for land management and air quality reviews associated with oil and gas development made decisions based on individual agency protocols, said U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Communications Press Secretary Courtney Rowe.

She added agencies used different approaches when determining the adequacy of air quality analyses and mitigation; the stage in oil and gas activities -- planning, leasing, or permitting -- when air quality analyses should occur; and the appropriate thresholds and resource conditions to use as the starting point for analyzing impacts to visibility and other air quality related values. These differences often resulted in project delays.

To alleviate delays and improve interagency coordination, the agencies worked to establish mutually acceptable procedures for conducting air quality analyses as part of the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA requires all federal agencies to evaluate and disclose the potential environmental impacts of their proposed actions in a public process.

The collaborating agencies state that safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production is vital to America's energy security, but add, in facilitating oil and gas development, public health, safety, and environmental quality standards need to be ensured.

"Our (the Fish and Wildlife Service) role in the MOU is more of a reviewing agency role," said Catherine Collins, environmental engineer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Air Quality Branch in Colorado. "We review how activity on certain lands and outside of those lands impact the air quality on our lands."

She added they also identify what needs to be done to protect the air quality on the land.

The lead agency, in collaboration with the other agencies will identify reasonable and control measures and design features to address adverse impacts to air quality or Air Quality Related Values on all affected lands, according to the MOU.