TitleCSU releases study on air pollution created during oil and gas production
BodyColorado State University scientists on Tuesday unveiled measurements of oil and gas industry air pollution in western Colorado under a $1.7 million Garfield County contract — partially funded by companies — that detailed emissions of methane, 48 volatile organic compounds and cancer-causing benzene. The project, run by CSU atmospheric scientist Jeff Collett, did not include an analysis of data or a look at health impacts. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has not done any emission studies like this before. CSU researchers used coffee can-sized canisters to catch air during oil and gas operations from 2013 through 2015. “What we’ve done is document the types of chemicals, and the amounts of those chemicals, that are emitted when new wells are prepared,” Collett said. “The point is, we need to understand those release rates so we can take next steps … looking at what the impacts are, including health impacts and air quality impacts. We have areas like the Front Range that are struggling to meet the ozone standard. We need to understand the sources that contribute to ozone production.” Colorado has emerged as a leading oil and gas producer, with more than 51,000 active wells. The scientists captured air pollution during oil and gas drilling, fracking and the “flowback” resurfacing of fracking fluids and water from deep underground. Garfield County contributed $1 million for the study. Oil and gas companies including Encana, WPX Energy, Ursa Resources, Bill Barrett Corp., Caerus Oil and Gas and Laramie Energy supported the work through $700,000 in gifts to CSU. A committee including government, industry and National Center for Atmospheric Research experts guided the study and reviewed findings. The most abundant compound detected was methane, a heat-trapping gas tied to climate change that state and federal regulators have targeted — with emissions from oil and gas operations measured at median levels of 40 grams per second during flowback and 2 grams a second during drilling. CSU scientists also documented median levels of ethane (0.31 grams a second), propane (0.15 grams a second), benzene (0.04 grams a second), and toluene (0.27 grams a second). University officials said they’d post the raw data online at a CSU portal by July 1. Collett and crew are conducting a similar study of oil and gas industry air pollution — commissioned by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — along Colorado’s northern Front Range.
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