University of Colorado at Boulder
BMP of Oil and Gas Development


Air Quality Studies


Studies In Process

The University of Texas, several oil companies, and the Environmental Defense Fund are collecting emissions data from drilling to product delivery in four regions — the Gulf Coast, Mid-Continent, Appalachia and the Rocky Mountains. The first study results on Measurements of Methane Emissions at Natural Gas Production Sites, as well as project data sets, presentations and information on further studies, are available on the UT Methane project website.

GSI Environment Inc. (GSI), Texas A&M University's (TAMU) Global Petroleum Research Institute (GPRI) and Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR), using a $3.5 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) program, are currently developing scientifically-based protocols for assessing stray gas impacts and baseline sampling, air emissions, and produced water. For more information on this project, see: Advanced Analytical Methods for Air and Stray Gas Emissions and Produced Brine Characterization.

Front Range Air Pollution and Photochemistry Experiment (FRAPPÉ)
In July of 2014, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), University of Colorado Boulder and other organizations launched a field project across the northern Front Range of Colorado to track the origins of summertime ozone. The researchers used specifically-equpped aircraft, mobile radars, balloon-mounted sensors and sophisticated computer simulations to measure local and far-flung air pollution sources. The study focused on the urban corridor from south of Denver north to Fort Collins as well as the adjacent plains and mountains.

Recent Results

A study out of the Denver-Julesburg Basin has found that oil and gas operations released nearly two times as much methane into the atmosphere in 2008 as the state realized. The research has been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Atmospheres.

A follow-up study, entitled A New Look at Methane and Nonmethane Hydrocarbon Emissions from Oil and Natural Gas Operations in the Colorado Denver-Julesburg Basin, indicated that the hourly methane emissions from oil and gas development in the same area may be as much as three times higher than the emissions estimate based on the EPA's Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program data for 2012. Additionally, the study showed that the total emissions of volatile organic compounds may be twice as much as what is recorded in the state inventory, with benzene emissions possibly being up to seven times higher than what is recorded.

EPA Needs to Improve Air Emissions Data for the Oil and Natural Gas Production Sector (Office of Inspector General) - The Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evaluated whether the EPA has the data needed to make key decisions regarding air emissions from oil and natural gas production activities. Key decisions include the need for regulations, enforcement and permitting decisions, and risk assessment.

Human Health Risk Assessment of Air Emissions from Development of Unconventional Natural Gas Resources
(McKenzie, Lisa M. et al. Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado) - Technological advances (e.g. directional drilling, hydraulic fracturing), have led to increases in unconventional natural gas development (NGD), raising questions about health impacts. This study found that residents living within a 0.5 mile from wells are at greater risk for health effects from NGD than are residents living more than a 0.5 mile from wells.

Colorado oil and gas wells emit more pollutants than expected
(Katy Human, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) - In a five year study, NOAA scientists monitoring the atmosphere’s composition at a tower north of Denver found gas operations in the region leaked about twice as much methane into the atmosphere as previously estimated.

Winter Ozone Community Update, Initiatives to Cut Emissions
These slides from a meeting with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) explain what actions the WDEQ took to reduce ground level ozone in Sublette County, WY. The results show that there was an overall decline in volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide emissions from 2007 to 2010.

Preliminary studies indicate that maternal proximity to oil and gas developments may increase the fetus' chances of developing certain birth defects. A recent study, Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to Natural Gas Development in Rural Colorado (McKenzie, Lisa M. et al. Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado), suggests that pregnant mothers living in close proximity (<10 miles) to a large number of natural gas wells may have a more likely chance of having a child with either a congenital heart defect (CHD) or a neural tube defect (NTD). There are several factors, including genetics, which may contribute to a fetus developing either kind of defect, but both have been associated with exposure to benzene and toluene, both air pollutants that can be released by oil and gas development. The study suggests that the risk of a fetus developing these conditions increases with the proximity and/or density of wells around the maternal residence. Further studies are necessary in order to confirm or rejected these findings.

The Weather Channel, InsideClimate News, and the Center for Public Integrity published a report of the health and legal issues troubling families living in the Eagle Ford Shale oil and gas development area in Texas. Read or watch the report here: Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale – Big Oil and Bad Air on the Texas Prairie.

What we know (and don’t know) about air quality impacts of oil and gas development – a study of fugitive emissions in the Uinta Basin in Utah.

More Information

Federal and State Contacts: Search by state and find your local air agency's contact information.

EARTHWORKS: EARTHWORKS is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the destructive impacts of mineral development in the U.S. and worldwide.

Natural GasSTAR: This Web site is home to the Natural Gas STAR program that encourages oil and gas companies to adopt efficient and cost effective technologies to reduce emissions.

Red Lodge Clearinghouse: This website is a joint project of the Natural Resource Law Center. This site provides information on the key concepts of the Clean Air Act as well as links to additional information on air quality regulations.

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Air Quality Studies