After a year of studying winter ozone air pollution in Utah’s Uintah Basin, a team of scientists has determined that oil and gas wells are causing most of the problem.
The team at Utah State University’s Uintah Basin campus studied ozone last winter – when there were only a few inversion days and not much of a problem. It’s been worse this year, and Seth Lyman with the Bingham Research Center says a big part of the problem is the volatile organic compounds such as benzene coming from thousands of oil and gas wells.
“They’re more reactive in that they produce more ozone per gram emitted than some other VOC’s such as ethane and propane and they also can have a human health effect," Lyman tells KUER.
New EPA rules have put strict limits on oil and gas producers for those volatile organic compounds, but Kathleen Sgamma with the Western Energy Alliance says the industry could wind up being punished for what it’s already doing right if the Uintah Basin becomes a non-attainment zone for ozone pollution.
“That’s the built-in disincentive for the Clean Air Act, unfortunately," Sgamma says, "but that’s not what industry is doing in the Uintah Basin now. We are taking those measures now, both through regulatory mechanisms and through voluntary mechanisms as well.”
Hospitals in the Uintah Basin have been admitting more and more asthma cases in recent years, but health authorities say they need more research to determine whether that’s associated with the high ozone levels on winter inversion days.