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Vol. 22, No. 20 Week of May 14, 2017
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

EPA ups Fairbanks air quality ante

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The Environmental Protection Agency is raising its classification of air quality problems in Fairbanks from “moderate” to “serious,” for non-attainment of national air quality standards. The agency says that it understands the air quality challenge that the city faces and that it will work with the Fairbanks North Star Borough to find solutions. The new classification will go into effect 30 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register.

Wood stove use

The air quality issue arises primarily because of the widespread use of wood stoves to heat houses during the winter in the Fairbanks area, given the high cost of alternative forms of heating. During severe cold weather, thermal inversions tend to trap the fine particulates from wood smoke close to ground level, causing people to inhale the polluted air.

Unfortunately, the thermal inversions that exacerbate the problem occur at times when heating is most needed.

“Fairbanks North Star Borough faces an especially difficult challenge of meeting existing pollution standards for a number of reasons including a high reliance on wood stoves and wood heaters to stay warm,” said Tim Hamlin, director of EPA’s Region 10 Office of Air and Waste, on May 1 when announcing the raising of the Fairbanks air quality classification. “We recognize their challenges and will work closely with the State of Alaska and the borough to find solutions that will achieve both clean, healthy air and warm homes.”

EPA says that it is raising the Fairbanks air quality classification because the city had failed to meet federal air quality standards by the end of 2015, as originally required. Under the new classification the State of Alaska will need to submit a Fairbanks serious air quality plan to EPA by the end of this year - the state and the borough are currently developing a plan, with technical assistance and support from EPA, the EPA says. The plan must involve the adoption of the best available control measures and control technology, and demonstrate attainment of the required air quality standard by Dec. 31, 2019.

Interior Energy Project

A prime objective of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s Interior Energy Project is to address Fairbanks air quality problems by greatly expanding the use of natural gas for the heating of buildings in the city. That project is trying to establish a new gas supply at a workable price from the Cook Inlet basin, with the gas to be transported in liquefied form to Fairbanks. The gas in Fairbanks needs to be priced at a level that will motivate a significant number of households and businesses to convert to gas heating. The potential availability of low-cost financing for heating system conversions may help in this effort.

If people are burning wood for heat, the EPA suggests the use of dry wood in professionally installed, certified wood stoves, as a means of reducing particulate emissions through the complete burning of the wood at relatively high temperatures.

- ALAN BAILEY



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