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Noon seminar - Air quality impacts from hydraulic fracturing oil and gas operations in Uintah Basin

Monday, March 11, 2013, 12:00PM - 1:00PM

Noon seminar - Air quality impacts from hydraulic fracturing oil and gas operations in Uintah Basin


Detlev Helmig



ARC 620

The Uintah Basin, located in NE Utah and bordering NW Colorado, has experienced an unprecedented growth in oil and gas operations during the past decade from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) operations.  Atmospheric monitoring in this region in recent years has revealed frequent and substantial exceedences of the 75 ppbv ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS).  This degradation of air quality has been linked to emissions from the oil and gas operations.  Ozone pollution has been recognized primarily as a summertime problem arising from diverse emissions in densely populated and industrialized areas, in contrast, the Uintah Basin is primarily a wilderness area, dominated by a single industry, and ozone pollution here is observed during the winter months under snow cover conditions.

During the winters of 2012 and 2013 INSTAAR’s Atmospheric Research Laboratory participated in two field studies south of Vernal, UT, investigating ozone precursor emissions and ozone production chemistry with surface and tethered balloon vertical profile measurements.  The contrasting snow cover conditions during these two years offered a stellar opportunity for investigating the effect of snow cover on the accumulation of emissions in the surface layer and ozone production chemistry.  During the 2013 winter sustained snow cover in the basin promoted multi-day inversion conditions.  Under these conditions highly enhanced atmospheric concentrations of methane, nitrogen oxides, and non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC) were measured, with NMHC at times exceeding up to 1000 times natural background concentrations.  Substantial ozone production was observed, with daytime ozone maxima approaching 160 ppbv, levels that are more than two times the NAAQS and a public health concern.


Free and open to the public