Utah's oil and gas producers announced last week that data from an air-quality study in eastern Utah will be available to the public and to government-land managers as early as September.
The study plan, presented during a Vernal meeting by Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, is expected to help streamline the approval process for new energy development.
"This is one example of how the industry has been proactive to ensure that land managers have the proper tools," said Jon Bargas, manager of communications for the association, which includes some 400 oil and natural-gas producers serving the Intermountain West. "To our knowledge, this has never been done before."
The study will look at emissions across eastern Utah in Grand, Emery, Duchesne, Uintah and Carbon counties. In addition to identifying what pollutants are in the air, researchers will look at the source of the emissions, whether directly from the oil and gas industry or from alternate sources, such as pollutants carried from the Wasatch Front, highway traffic or industries not associated with energy development.
"We want to have low emissions everywhere we operate," Bargas said. "But right now we don't know what those emissions are or what portion is coming from oil and gas production."
This spring, the permitting process for expansion of natural-gas development by Denver-based Bill Barrett Corp. near Nine Mile Canyon was delayed when the Environmental Protection Agency found problems with the project's environmental impact statement, specifically citing air-quality concerns.
Bargas said the association's study was not prompted by any specific incident, but will help individual sites, such as Barrett's, plan for expansion.
"It's more of a trend we see," he explained. "We want clean air as much as anyone else. We want to make sure our impact on the air and on the land is as minimal as possible."
Investors, according to Bargas, are seeing uncertainty in the oil and gas industry because of the lack of available data. He said data sets and models from the study will be updated annually and will provide public land administrators and energy developers the data to address environmental issues up front.
The study will look at five airborne pollutants, including methane, nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter (PM.).
Methane is one of the most common greenhouse gases and is blamed for global warming.
Nitrogen dioxide, according to the EPA, is a main ingredient in ground-level ozone, which can trigger serious respiratory problems. It also has also been shown to contribute to acid rain, global warming, deteriorations in water quality and "visibility impairment most noticeable in national parks," the EPA said.
Sulfur oxide has three common forms whichthat can contribute to respiratory illnesses and acid rain. It also has also been found to cause visibility impairment.
Both nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide can be transported long distances, so the study will attempt to define what portion may be coming from local sources.
VOCs are any one of several organic vaporized chemical compounds that can react with other pollutants to form smog.PM comes in two forms, based on size. According to the EPA, the smaller particles "pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream." Larger PM includes dust from roadways and industrial activities, and while it can be inhaled, it is much larger than the particles found in smog and generally poses a lower health risk. PM has been linked with several respiratory problems such as asthma and chronic bronchitis.