Pinedale air quality team gets honor from DEQ

Joy Ufford photo The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality named Pinedale air-quality inspectors Cindi Etcheverry and Staff Polk as ‘Team of Year 2020.’

SUBLETTE COUNTY – If your team’s job is to examine the Upper Green River Basin’s oil and gas emissions and decrease or prevent them, your work might seem endless.

If your team takes its job seriously, each will gather details while sustaining positive collaboration with local energy operators.

As District 5 air-quality inspectors for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, Cindi Etcheverry and Staff Polk hit the ground running every day they work to check compliance, develop studies and dig up data to limit air pollutants and decrease the risk of winter ozone.

“’The devil’s in the details’ is always our motto,” Polk said. “We have to pay attention.”

Etcheverry added, “We are both very detailed oriented. … I don’t know if you can ever finish the job. We just push for the best out there.”

“When new technology comes out, new regulations come out,” Polk said. He works with operators to help them apply that to their operations. “There’s never an end.”

Last month, the DEQ announced the duo as “Team of the Year 2020,” an honor neither expected and both appreciate.

“Staff and Cindi work without significant direct supervision as the Air Quality Division compliance liaisons in the Pinedale Office, handling significant air quality tasks in the Upper Green River Basin,” said DEQ spokesman Keith Guille, explaining how the team caught the state agency’s attention.

Old hands

Etcheverry started in the DEQ Pinedale office seven years ago; Polk has three years in. She covers the Jonah Field; he covers the Mesa and Pinedale Anticline “and we both group up on the fields outside them,” she said.

“It’s still very busy out there, oil and gas, and engines are still out there,” Etcheverry said.

Both have extensive environmental, safety, regulatory and technological backgrounds in many aspects of the oil and gas industry, so both “know the ins and outs.”

The Upper Green River Basin is a unique territory with stricter state and federal regulations and standards, especially to prevent winter ozone and aim for higher air-quality standards.

If an operator receives a DEQ notice of violation, they work with the company to ensure compliance. Both do many field inspections and both keep up with new technology that can improve engine and combustor efficiency.

One of Etcheverry’s every-day tools is the FLIR or “Forward Looking InfraRed” camera to detect leaks and emissions. Most operators also have inspectors using them to pinpoint needed repairs or upgrades.

“A lot of our success is because the operators work with us so well,” Polk said. “There’s nothing adversarial at all. It’s a win-win, in our opinion.”

They also coordinate with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Guille listed three of their “notable accomplishments” as DEQ Team of the Year for 2020. 

Keep moving

In 2019 and 2020, the Pinedale team implemented and completed the DEQ’s engine maintenance assurance program specifically for the Upper Green River Basin. It was reinstated last winter. Operators with internal combustion engines more powerful than 100 horsepower participated.

Etcheverry and Polk measured engines’ emissions, making 127 site visits between Jan. 1 and March 26, 2020. They met with operators’ maintenance teams periodically to test the engines and check that best management practices are followed. What they learned, they shared with all operators, Guille added.

“We’re always moving forward,” Etcheverry said. “We did a combustor study and found a lot of good information. … We’re keeping things going, doing studies and testing emissions. With the engine and combustor studies, the operators jumped right on them. A big part is working with them; it’s not all inspections.”

The modest team underplays the “critical” impacts of the combustor study now in Phase 2, according to Guille..

It took “coordinating with industry, the EPA and stack testers to help investigate the usefulness and test methodology necessary to use stoichiometry and new portable analyzer technology to understand combustor destruction efficiency and combustor field-configuration optimization,” Guille said.

In Greek, stoichiometry literally translates as the measure of elements.

“This is ongoing critical work which will have far-reaching effects inside not only Wyoming, but across state lines into all areas where combustors are used to remove volatile organic compounds from emissions,” Guille said. “This work was multiple-day field projects two times.”

Etcheverry is also a valuable presenter, Guille added. At an EPA-led meeting, she discussed her experience at Colorado’s Methane Emission Technology Evaluation Center, where District 5 staff traveled to the “university lab created at a well site.”

“There, compliance staff used a variety of techniques to discover leaks. Cindi’s experience in the field and expert use of the FLIR camera as a leak-detection device led to her presenting to the meeting. She was an outstanding representative for the State of Wyoming and her information was valued by all,” Guille said.

Above and beyond

This kind of work is “above and beyond the normal scope of Staff and Cindi’s duties in the UGRB,” Guille said. “The UGRB is a challenging area due to ozone concerns. Staff and Cindi also are both responsible for oversight on significant industrial infrastructure. They spend two to four days per week in the field performing site visits and inspections, and between the two of them have completed several hundred site visits of production sites in their respective areas each year.”

Still, being named as DEQ’s top team for 2020 came as a shock and honor.

“It was totally a surprise,” Polk said. “We didn’t even know we’d been nominated.”

Etcheverry was also very pleased – “I know we work hard, but I didn’t know hard until this happened.”

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