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The ULend program is a collaborative approach for fixing compliance issues before they become a regulatory problem. The program focuses on small oil and gas producers who might not be able to afford the kind of expensive equipment that could help them identify and repair leaks early.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a major contributor to elevated ozone levels in the Uinta Basin. The ULend program will help operators identify and repair VOC leaks at oil and gas sources. Benefits include:
- Recovery of marketable product that would otherwise be lost
- Decrease in VOC emissions
- Lower ozone values in the Basin
- Collaborative approach between the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) and industry
- Loan program for state of the art infrared (IR) camera for leak detection
- Training and certification in camera use provided by the ULend program
VOC Leaks at Oil and Gas Operations
In 2016, DAQ received legislative funding for the Storage Tank Emissions Pilot Project (STEPP), a collaborative program that used an IR camera to check for leaks in oil and gas tanks in the Uinta Basin. The research showed that almost 40 percent of the more than 400 well pads visited had some type of VOC leak. Seventy-four percent of the fugitive emissions detected by the IR camera appeared to come from either the thief hatch or pressure relief valves. While these are not the only source of VOC emissions in the Basin, they may be a significant contributor to elevated ozone levels during winter inversions.
The 2017 Utah Legislature appropriated $200,000 in air-quality research funds for the ULend program to provide oil and gas operators with a practical solution for reducing VOC leaks at their facilities.
Advantages of ULend
Product leaks at oil and gas facilities can be difficult to detect. IR cameras offer a proven technology for locating hard-to-find leaks, but the cameras can be prohibitively expensive for small operators. Under the new ULend program, companies can get certified in optical gas-imaging (OGI) and borrow an IR camera. The program benefits operators in a number of ways:
- While many leaks at oil and gas operations are relatively easy to repair, they can be difficult to see. An IR camera helps operators locate fugitive VOC emissions that are not normally visible to the naked eye.
- Operators can inspect their own sites with an IR camera to identify and repair leaks. This proactive approach minimizes leaks that have the potential to become a compliance issue.
- DAQ will be able to use the information provided by program participants to increase its understanding of the source and frequency of leaks. Repair data will help to ensure that DEQ regulations target fugitive VOC emissions in an appropriate, cost-effective manner.
The ULend program will help facilitate the implementation of leak detection and repair (LDAR) programs by alleviating much of the cost burden associated with these programs. ULend will allow companies to forego the purchase of a ~$100,000 IR camera as well as the added cost of hiring a camera contractor (~$7,000/week), since ULend will provide training in the use of the camera to program participants.
DAQ has purchased an IR camera and will be working with the Infrared Training Center (ITC), an IR camera training and certification organization, to offer complimentary training (a $1,995 value) for up to 20 participants.
Operators utilizing the borrowed cameras will be asked to share a minimal amount of the data they collect — basic facility information, date of site visit, specific leak location, how the leak was addressed, and associated costs — with DAQ. These data will be used solely for research purposes, not compliance actions.
Applied Science for Results
The ULend program is a great example of what can be accomplished when industry and government work together. DAQ has partnered with Utah State University, Bingham Research Center, and TriCounty Health for this project, with additional support from the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR). An outreach program is being developed for operators (especially small operations) to provide them with information about ULend and answer questions they may have about the program. This solutions-based approach offers stakeholders a range of benefits:
- Participating companies can demonstrate their commitment to addressing emissions issues in the Uinta Basin through voluntary rather than regulatory measures.
- Industry will save money by reducing the amount of saleable product lost from equipment leaks.
- Increases in compliance will decrease costs for industry and DAQ’s air–quality compliance program.
- Data collected through the program will help DAQ craft targeted regulations that are effective at reducing VOC emissions without applying an undue or unnecessary burden on the oil and gas industry.