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Monday Noon Seminar - Impacts of oil and gas development on air quality in the Colorado Front Range

Monday, March 16, 2015, 12:00PM - 1:00PM


Detlev Helmig

Atmospheric Research Lab, INSTAAR


ARC room 620

The Colorado Northern Front Range (CNFR) has experienced rapid expansion of drilling of oil and natural gas reservoirs (O&NG) due to advances in hydraulic fracturing technology (fracking). Until a few years ago O&NG activities took place primarily in rural areas. However, more recently urban areas have been increasingly subjected to drilling, raising concerns regarding the environmental impacts on communities. One of the primary concerns arises from O&NG emissions and elevated atmospheric concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOC), which are linked to two human health effects. First, a prominent, but poorly defined concern is from long term exposure. An increasing number of studies suggests that direct exposure to selected VOC, as well as synergistic effects of exposure to the mix of diverse VOC, may be more severe than previously recognized, warranting more attention and research. Second, VOC emissions indirectly affect human health because their atmospheric oxidation contributes to regional production of ozone in the lower atmosphere. In the CNFR elevated ozone primarily results from regional daytime photochemical production. Exceedances of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for surface ozone have been reported from monitoring sites in the CNFR for more than fifteen years during summer. VOC measurements show significant increases towards the O&NG area in Weld County, northwest of the Denver-Boulder metropolitan region. Furthermore, transport analyses of elevated ozone events identify Weld County as the primary source region. These analyses suggest that O&NG emissions are playing an increasing role in ozone production and air quality in the CNFR.


Free and open to the public.