Dan Bammes – KUER
The Utah Division of Air Quality has just released the third in a series of studies on the winter ozone problem in the Uintah Basin.
One goal of these studies has been to help avoid labeling the Uintah Basin as a non-attainment area for federal air pollution standards. That could lead to new restrictions on oil and gas development. And while the studies break new ground in understanding the problem, they’ve all but ignored the role of methane – a greenhouse gas that leaks from drilling operations in substantial quantities.
Near the banks of the White River, a couple of compressors are sending gas from nearby wells through pipelines laid along the ground. The raw gas includes ethane, propane and other hydrocarbons, but more than half of it is methane, and a lot of it leaks from facilities like this all over the Uintah Basin.
The Utah Division of Air Quality operates a monitoring station in Vernal – a small, rectangular building that would fit easily on the back of a semi truck.
Bo Call, who heads the monitoring program for the Utah Division of Air Quality, points out some of the sophisticated equipment inside.
Call points to instruments showing the current ozone reading. “This is at 33.3, so it samples continuously. It’s always sampling . . . We have air that comes in through this glass pipe and comes back down to this manifold and then all the instruments that are plugged in here will sample off of that manifold . . .
Brock LeBaron, the deputy director of the Division of Air Quality, says the recipe for winter ozone begins with nitrogen oxides from engine exhaust and volatile organic compounds such as benzene, propane and formaldehyde leaking from wells and valves and pipes. Sunlight drives the reaction, especially when there’s snow on the ground. (…)