Gas Wells Create “Wintertime Ozone” Throughout West

by Downwinders on February 26, 2012

Remember when we only had to worry about smog during the 7-month “ozone season?” Those were the days. Now, thanks to the natural gas industry, people who live in the West also have to worry about it during the other five months of the year. First discovered in Wyoming, then Colorado, and now Utah, “wintertime ozone” is showing up regularly in places that have a lot of gas wells and also have a lot of snow that reflects sunlight. Ozone is created by a combination of either Nitrogen Oxides or Volatile Organic Compounds, time, and exposure to the sun. Diesel engines from gas drilling often release tons of Nitrogen Oxides, but it’s the tons and tons of escaping VOCs from gas fields that seem to be at the heart of wintertime ozone. We are finding a huge amount of methane and other chemicals coming out of the natural-gas fields,” said Russell Schnell, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 2011, the Utah basin being studies had some of the highest ozone readings in the country – over 130 parts per billion. Even with our worst ozone season in five years, DFW never came close to those kinds of smog levels in 2011. Although industry says its spent a lot of money adding controls in Wyoming trying to take care of the problem, smog levels there still peaked over 120 parts per billion. In North Texas we don’t have the snowfall necessary to make wintertime ozone a realty, but we have as many or more gas wells than Utah and Wyoming gas fields and many citizens believe they play a larger role in our own local summertime ozone smog levels than the state or industry would like to admit. There’s no reason to think that gas wells produce any fewer VOCs in the summertime, and in fact heat tends to accelerate fugitive releases from tanks because heat cause pressure to build inside of them. What’s causing ozone problems in the wintertime in Utah and Wyoming is most likely causing ozone probelms in DFW in the summertime too.  

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