September - October 2012
Study Identifies Uintah Basin Pollution
Researchers and policymakers are one step closer to understanding why the Uintah Basin experiences episodes of high wintertime ozone.
Here's what they found: Although oil and gas wells contribute significantly to air pollution plaguing the Uinta Basin, a growing number of people driving vehicles also play a role. That's according to preliminary findings of an extensive study launched last winter and released in August.
"The preliminary results do give us some important information we can draw from to help develop the best possible mitigation strategies," said Brock LeBaron, deputy director of the Division of Air Quality who is leading this multi-partnership effort.
The Uintah Basin Winter Ozone Study was commissioned by a number of partners, including the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Uintah Impact Mitigation Special Service District, Western Energy Alliance, Bureau of Land Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The partners contributed matching dollars and in-kind services for the estimated $5 million project to lay the foundation to understanding the chemical and meteorological conditions that create the unusual winter ozone episodes in the Basin.
The study indicates:
Observed levels of ambient Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs species were highest in gas-production areas, lower in oil-production areas, and lower still in population centers. Examples of VOC sources include oil and gas production, and on- and off-road vehicles.
The highest nitrogen oxides, or NOx concentrations were observed in the Basin's population centers, Vernal and Roosevelt, for instance. Concentrations were lower in gas-production areas, and lower still in oil-production areas. Examples of NOx sources include on- and off-road diesel vehicles, gas compressor stations, and coal-burning power plants. The findings give researchers some of the information they need to identify the cause of high ozone, but the study was not without challenges.
"The Basin's mild winter and lack of snow cover did not create the right conditions for high levels of ozone to form" said LeBaron. "We were able to gather most of the data we needed, but there are some key missing pieces."
While the mild winter kept ozone low—the highest reading was 62 parts per billion, shy of the 75 ppb standard—and created problems for the researchers, there was an upside.
"The good news" said Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee "is that we didn't exceed the standard once last year."
The study and official findings will be released in October of this year. In the meantime, to learn more about the findings, recommendations for gathering remaining data and potential mitigation strategies visit DEQ's webpage: http://www.deq.utah.gov/locations/uintahbasin/index.htm.
This article was written by Stacee Adams, environmental planning consultant with DEQ's Office of Planning and Public Affairs.