Legislative funding for air-quality research has provided DAQ with the resources to investigate the complex conditions that lead to high pollution levels during winter inversions and summer ozone episodes. Better understanding of the unique conditions that lead to poor air quality helps DAQ craft effective regulations, target emission sources, and apply appropriate emission-control technologies. In addition, this state funding is critically important for leveraging federal, state, private-sector sponsorships, and in-kind support for research initiatives.
In 2018, the Utah Legislature approved $500,000 in ongoing funding for air-quality research through the Science for Solutions Research Grant. This annual research funding will help DAQ improve its knowledge of the unique atmospheric and chemical conditions that contribute to air pollution in Utah. The legislature also approved $100,000 funding for mobile monitoring data collection to improve scientific understanding of the spatial variability of the pollutants that contribute to the formation of PM2.5 and ozone.
Current Research Projects (FY 2019)
Eight air-quality research projects were funded for fiscal year (FY) 2019 by the State Legislature through the Science for Solutions Research Grant.
1. Wasatch Front Ammonia and Chloride Observations (WaFACO)
This study will collect ambient-air measurements to define the spatiotemporal behavior of atmospheric ammonia (NH3) and hydrochloric acid (HCl) along the Wasatch Front during the winter and summer. Numerous studies, including the 2017 Utah Winter Fine Particulate Study (UWFPS), have shown ammonium nitrate to be the main component in PM2.5 particulate pollution during inversions along the Wasatch Front. Better understanding of ammonia behavior along the Wasatch Front and the possible influence of hydrochloric acid on the formation of wintertime PM2.5 and ozone will improve air-quality models used to develop targeted pollution controls to reduce seasonal air pollution.
2. Jordan Narrows Gap Ammonia Transport Study
This study is a follow-up to the 2017 Utah Winter Fine Particulate Study (UWFPS). One of the outcomes of the UWFPS study was the need for a better understanding of ammonia sources and concentrations in the Salt Lake Valley, including improved understanding of the role of air-mass exchange and ammonia transport between the Salt Lake and Utah valleys. This study will provide key meteorological support during the 2018-2019 winter season for chemical observations that focus on the ammonia transport and air mass exchange between the Salt Lake and Utah Valleys.
3. Ammonia Emission Assessment from Diesel and Gasoline Engines under Utah-Specific Conditions
The study will take tailpipe measurements for ammonia (NH3) in on-road and laboratory settings for a variety of diesel and gasoline vehicles representative of Utah’s vehicle fleet. This research will improve DAQ’s understanding of the contribution of automobiles to ammonia emissions in Utah.
4. Aethalometer Study for Estimating Compliance with Wood-burning Ban
Research studies continue to find wood-burning to be a significant contributor to wintertime PM2.5 levels, even during periods with wood-burning restrictions in effect. The University of Utah’s Department of Chemical Engineering will collaborate with DAQ in a study to estimate the contribution of wood burning to wintertime PM2.5 levels using a different monitoring method. Scientists will collect aethalometer data from four stationary locations in the Salt Lake, Utah, and Cache valleys. Researchers will also collect mobile measurements in the Salt Lake Valley. Aethalometers measure the concentration of brown and black carbon particles suspended in the air. These data will also be used to assess compliance with wood-burning restrictions during the winter of 2018-2019.
5. TRAX Air-Quality Observation Project
TRAX light-rail trains provide a unique platform to capture spatial variations in ozone and PM2.5. The three-year pilot program to test and evaluate the deployment of the sensors and real-time availability of the air-quality monitoring was a great success. The current study will install new, calibrated PM2.5 and ozone sensors on two TRAX light rail trains; deploy two fixed PM2.5 sensors to establish a relationship between TRAX-based measurements and the Hawthorne monitor; provide online, real-time visualization of TRAX air-quality measurements; and offer a publicly-accessible archive of TRAX air-quality data.
6. Daily Wintertime PM2.5 Speciation at Hawthorne and Smithfield
DAQ will increase the frequency of speciation of wintertime PM2.5 filters to validate regulatory air-quality modeling. DAQ will conduct daily sampling at Hawthorne (Salt Lake County) and daily sampling at Smithfield (Cache County) during persistent inversion events.
7. Bountiful City Dichloromethane and Formaldehyde Source Apportionment Study
Researchers will conduct a source-apportionment study between December 2018 and January 2019 to determine the source of dichloromethane (methylene chloride) and formaldehyde in Bountiful City. The study will use source apportionment methods on particulate samples to identify and quantify the sources of these air toxics. The study will also collect measurements of PM2.5 concentration and composition.
8. Composition of Volatile Organic Compound Emissions from Oil and Gas Wells in the Uinta Basin
DAQ is leading a new effort to improve estimates of the speciation of organic compound emissions from Uinta Basin oil and gas wells. Utah State University (USU) will work with DAQ to collect and analyze pressurized gas and liquid samples from oil and gas well separators and conduct data processing and analysis. Speciation of these gas emissions will help scientists identify the organic compounds in the samples and improve air-quality emissions modeling.
Success Story: ULend
In 2016, the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) received legislative funding for the Storage Tank Emissions Pilot Project (STEPP), a collaborative program that used an infrared (IR) camera to check for leaks in oil and gas tanks in the Uinta Basin. The research showed that volatile organic compound (VOC) leaks make a significant contribution to elevated ozone levels during winter inversions. Almost 40 percent of the more than 400 well pads visited had some type of VOC leak. The 2017 Utah Legislature appropriated $200,000 in air-quality research money to fund the new ULend program, an IR camera-lending system that provides oil-and-gas operators with a practical way to identify and reduce VOC leaks at their facilities.
Product leaks at oil-and-gas facilities can be difficult to detect. Infrared (IR) cameras offer a proven technology for locating hard-to-find leaks, but the cameras can be prohibitively expensive for small operators. The legislative appropriation provided DAQ with the funds to purchase an IR camera and provide training for companies to become certified in optical gas-imaging (OGI). After certification, those companies can borrow the IR camera to check for leaks at their sites. 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(s) and frequency of leaks. Repair data will help ensure that DEQ regulations target fugitive VOC emissions in an appropriate, cost-effective manner.
ULend provides small-to-medium sized oil and gas producers with access to an IR camera at no cost. The camera is used to check for leaks at well pads, an industry best-practice known as leak detection and repair (LDAR).
“We use infrared cameras to determine if we have leaks—where the hydrocarbons we would normally recovery and sell are leaking out into the atmosphere,” says Randy Hughes with XTO Energy Inc., a company specializing in the drilling and production of oil and natural gas. “Part of that, too, is just to be friendly to the environment. That’s a big part of it, too. The less stuff that we have leaking out into the atmosphere, the better it is for the environment. So, it’s kind of a two-fold process.”
Fugitive emissions from oil and gas producers aren’t just an environmental problem. Leaks at well sites also create hazardous conditions for the workers. When operators incorporate an LDAR program, including the use of IR cameras, they can survey their facilities, identify safety and health issues, and repair the problems quickly.
“A huge benefit of the ULend program is the front-end cost. The cameras cost $85,000-$125,000, depending on the make/model type that you get,” says Hughes. “That’s a huge front-end cost for the little guy.”
Operators using the borrowed cameras are asked to share some of the data they collect with DAQ such as basic facility information, date of the site visit, specific leak location, how the leak was addressed, and associated costs. These data are used for research purposes, not compliance actions.
The ULend program is a great example of what can be accomplished when industry and government work together. DAQ partnered with the Bingham Research Center and TriCounty Health for this project, with additional support from the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR).