Big Sky Isn't Blowing Smoke But Is Polluting Air

Mar 21, 2017

Credit (Flickr/Todd Klassy) (

Yesterday, the Billings Gazette reported that three oil refineries and a sugar beet factory in town are not polluting the air.

They interviewed a couple of staff from nearby facilities but did not talk to David Klemp– Air Quality Bureau Chief for the Department of Environmental Quality– the guy who's in charge of this information.

In those steam plumes we see coming from the refineries and sugar beat factory in town, there is some pollution.

However, it is in compliance with standards and regulations mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The types of pollution and amounts of pollution depend on the processes that have been vented or routed through those stacks," said Klemp.

For example, refineries have heat-based processors and flares. Flares are typically used to combust hydrogen sulfite gas so its not unnecessarily exposing the community to this hazardous gas.

"As you combust hydrogen sulfite gas one of the byproducts would be carbon monoxide or sulfur dioxide as a gas released into the air," said Klemp.

When asked whether or not that's bad for human health, Kemp said it isn't.

"Within acceptable levels they're alright. There are ambient standards that are set to protect human health and environment from the adverse effects of pollutants. Sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter. They all have ambient standards."

Complying with these so called ambient standards means that the amount of pollution inside these wispy white stacks of condensed water vapor does not surpass a specific amount.

Klemp noted that Billings has had a history of failing to comply with the national standard for hydrogen sulfite emissions. But as of lately, the community has been in compliance the existing and the new standards that have recently been promulgated by the EPA.

The Gazette's article elicits the question as to whether or not the Big Sky is blowing smoke and Klemp says he likes the headline of this piece quite a bit– because it provides an opportunity to explain what is really going on with the airshed in Billings.