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Fossil fuel drilling fingered in Uinta Basin ozone formation

Better pollution control technology needed to cut VOC emissions

Monitoring sites in the Uinta Basin.

Monitoring sites in the Uinta Basin.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Ongoing studies of winter ozone formation in the Uinta Basin shows the need for better pollution control technology on oil and gas drilling rigs and other equipment used for fossil fuel development.

An emissions inventory developed for the study found that oil and gas operations are responsible for 98-99 percent of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and for 57-61 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions. VOCs and nitrogen compounds are the key ingredients for ozone-laced smog, which has been clearly identified as a human health threat.

The collaborative study led by University of Utah scientists was aimed at better understanding winter ozone formation and the scientists found that snow-covered ground, along with specific atmospheric conditions, are the key factors for ozone formation. C

urtailing industrial operations during certain weather patterns could be one way to reduce the formation of ozone, but that might prove costly for companies working with leased drilling gear, officials said during a press conference this week.

Before developing a comprehensive mitigation strategy, researchers want to develop more accurate weather and photochemical models to accurately simulate winter ozone formation. Only then will they know which mitigation strategies are most effective.

But in general, the study team said VOC controls hold the most promise for effectively reducing ozone production and would have other health benefits, considering that cancer-causing substances like benzene and tuolene are health threats in their own right.

The study was partly supported by the Western Energy Alliance with funding from several fossil fuel development companies adding up to $2.125 million.

“Ironically, after gathering a very impressive research team and deploying them into the basin with a vast array of scientific instruments, there were no high ozone occurrences in 2012,” said Kathleen Sgamma, Vice President of Government & Public Affairs. “The weather conditions necessary for ozone formation did not exist last winter, but as a result, the scientists were able to gather extensive baseline data,” she said.

“Industry remains committed to protecting air quality while continuing to develop domestic energy in the West, and proud to be a part of this scientific endeavor,”  Sgamma said.

The final 2011-2012 Study report and the 2012/2013 plan are online at http://www.deq.utah.gov/locations/uintahbasin/index.htm.

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