Category: air quality

Droughts and fires affecting Western U.S. air quality

New study tracks increase in summertime haze in Colorado wilderness

Summit County firefighters extinguish a small wildfire between Keystone and Montezuma late March, 2012.
Summit County, Colorado, firefighters extinguish a small wildfire between Keystone and Montezuma late March, 2012. A new University of Utah study suggests that more drought and wildfires will worsen air pollution in the high country of the West, even spreading to pristine wilderness areas. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Longer and hotter droughts and wildfires are polluting the once clear blue skies of the high country in the West, according to new research from the University of Utah.

The study, published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found a link between the severity of drought in the Intermountain West and summertime air quality. Climate projections suggest that drought and wildfire risk will continue to increase in coming decades.

“If you take that into the future, we’re going to see significant hazing of the West,” said University of Utah atmospheric scientist Gannet Hallar. Continue reading “Droughts and fires affecting Western U.S. air quality”

Opinion: Colorado, you are so fracked …

It’s all about the Mancos shale gas

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.
Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level across western Colorado and eastern Utah from 35,000 feet in the air. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

If you think Colorado is getting fracked now, just wait a few more months. The state’s oil and gas producers are lining up with the rest of the fossil fuel industry to cash in on the incoming administration’s dark vision of carbon unleashed. In a press release issued this week, the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association says it’s already planning a trip to Washington, D.C. to expedite approval of a natural gas pipeline across the western USA, leading to an export terminal at Coos Bay, Oregon.

The Canadian company proposing development of the project announced today it will reapply for a permit for the project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the next few months.

But a pipeline won’t do any good if there is no place to load the gas aboard ships, and West Coast cities are determined to block new fossil fuel infrastructure, according to InsideClimate News, which reports that Portland is one of the latest cities to use local zoning powers to prevent construction of new major fossil fuel terminals and expansion of any existing facilities.

And according to the watchdog group Citizens Against LNG, the Jordan Cove Energy Project, L.P. also formally requested that its application for a Site Certificate for their South Dunes Power Plant be withdrawn from further consideration by the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council and the Oregon Department of Energy. Without that power plant, there won’t any terminal at Coos Bay, activists say.

The idea, according to WSCOGA, is to develop Western Colorado’s vast Mancos Shale gas potential — an energy reserve among the largest natural gas resources in North America. According to the press release, natural gas producers in the Piceance Basin “have applauded Jordan Cove LNG’s decisive and speedy decision to pursue reapplication and approval of the most important energy infrastructure project in the Western United States.” Continue reading “Opinion: Colorado, you are so fracked …”

Study quantifies role of oil and gas emissions in ozone formation along Colorado Front Range

Research to help shape efforts to reduce dangerous air pollution
ozone map

By Bob Berwyn
Emissions from oil and gas production along the Colorado Front Range are a significant, measurable part of the region’s chronic summer ozone problem, scientists concluded after taking a close look at air pollution during an extensive research project in the summer of 2014.

Ozone levels in the area often spike above 70 parts per billion, a level deemed by the EPA to be dangerous to human health and to the environment, causing respiratory problems and damage to plants. About 17 ppb of that ozone are produced locally; about 3 ppb come from oil and gas industry emissions, according to a new study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

The researchers said their findings could help shape efforts to improve air quality in the region. Along with the volatile organic compounds released from oil and gas operations, nitrogen oxides from cars, buses and trucks are also a big factor. Any meaningful effort to improve air quality will have to address both sources. Continue reading “Study quantifies role of oil and gas emissions in ozone formation along Colorado Front Range”

Sunday set: From Above

‘Comin’ into London from over the Pole …’

A few more aerial shots left over in the Summit Voice archives, a little reminder (to myself) that airplane travel is a high-carbon activity. The world’s airlines are trying to grapple with the climate cost of their emissions, but so far, they have not made much progress, as you can read in this series of Summit Voice stories. Right now, the status is that an international air industry group is trying to develop its own self-policing scheme in order to avoid government regulations, but that effort is falling well short of what environmentalists want. The EPA is obligated under the Clean Air Act, to do something, but is moving much to slow. As a result, there’s a (big surprise) lawsuit to force the issue. Before any of that is resolved, air travelers always have the option of offsetting the carbon impacts of their own trip at Climate Care and other similar websites.

Colorado just can’t get a grip on its smog problem

State  fails to meet EPA standard set to protect public health; ozone problems to worsen with global warming

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State regulators have left children, the elderly and asthmatics vulnerable to potentially deadly levels of ozone. Photo courtesy NREL.

By Bob Berwyn

The modest steps taken by Colorado to try and improve air quality along the Front Range aren’t enough, according to the EPA. This week, the federal agency said the state has failed to meet air quality standards set to protect public health.

In a Federal Register Notice, the EPA designated the Denver-Boulder-Greeley-Fort Collins-Loveland corridor as a nonattainment area because it didn’t meet the federal limits for ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog. Under the Clean Air Act, the state was required to bring the Front Range into compliance with smog limits by July of 2015.  Colorado failed to meet this deadline. Continue reading “Colorado just can’t get a grip on its smog problem”

Michigan eyes climate-related public health threats

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Along with many other states across the northern tier, Michigan just experienced one of its warmest winters on record.

Officials prep for impacts to vulnerable populations

Staff Report

Michigan residents are likely to face a growing range of climate-related threats in coming decades, including respiratory diseases, heat-related illnesses and water- and vector-borne diseases, according to a new report from university researchers and state health officials.

Overall, the experts said that changing climate conditions like warmer temperatures and more frequent big rainstorms are an emerging public health threat in the state, where the average temperature has increased by anywhere from 0.6 to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1951. Average annual precipitation has increased by 4.5 percent during that period. Continue reading “Michigan eyes climate-related public health threats”

Global warming will lead to spike in ozone pollution

Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards.
Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards. A new study suggests even more spikes in dangerous ozone levels as global temperatures increase. Map courtesy WildEarth Guardians.

New study tracks dangerous public health threat posed by rising temps

Staff Report

Along with catastrophic heatwaves, flooding and droughts, greenhouse gas emissions are likely to result in a big spike in the number of days when air quality is impaired by ozone, according to a new study from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Left unchecked, global warming could lead to between three and nine additional days per year of unhealthy ozone levels by 2050, the researchers found.

“In the coming decades, global climate change will likely cause more heat waves during the summer, which in turn could cause a 70 to 100 percent increase in ozone episodes, depending on the region,” said Lu Shen, first author and graduate student at SEAS. Continue reading “Global warming will lead to spike in ozone pollution”