IMAGE: Instrumented NASA P-3 aircraft flies by the Boulder Atmospheric Observatory during a field campaign in summer 2014. view more
Credit: Will von Dauster/ NOAA
The first peer-reviewed study to directly quantify how emissions from oil and gas activities influence summertime ozone pollution in the Colorado Front Range confirms that chemical vapors from oil and gas activities are a significant contributor to the region’s chronic ozone problem.
Summertime ozone pollution levels in the northern Front Range periodically spike above 70 parts per billion (ppb), which is considered unhealthy–on average, 17 ppb of that ozone is produced locally. The new research, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, shows that oil and gas emissions contribute an average of 3 ppb of the locally produced ozone daily, and potentially more than that on high-ozone days.
“By combining nearly 50,000, high-precision measurements of VOCs in Colorado’s Front Range with an equally detailed model, we’ve been able to parse out the role of oil and gas,” said Erin McDuffie, the study’s lead author and a scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder, working in the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory. “We expect this technique to help us better understand what factors are contributing to air quality challenges elsewhere in the West.”
Ozone pollution–which can harm people’s lungs and damage crops–is produced when sunlight sparks reactions between volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). In cities like Denver, NOx comes primarily from vehicle tailpipes. VOCs can come from both natural sources like trees and anthropogenic ones, like oil and gas activities.
Colorado’s northern Front Range was an interesting location for this study for a number of reasons, the researchers said. First, it contains the major city …