Monday, March 30, 2015
Aerial Tracking of VOC & Methane Emissions
Sensitive instruments to track methane, VOCs and other airborne toxins from New Mexico to North Dakota
A recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study of satellite data showing a hotspot of potent heat-trapping methane pollution is adding to the study what escapes to the air—and how it is transformed in the atmosphere and affects air quality and climate.
Scientists hope to learn much more about the massive quantities of pollution escaping from fossil fuel development areas in the next few months as they launch this year’s Shale Oil and Natural Gas Nexus (SONGNEX 2015) field campaign, using airborne instruments to measure greenhouse gases and other toxic emissions.
CIRES and NOAA research has shown that many different volatile organic compounds are emitted in the production fields, and that the amount emitted depends greatly on the equipment and production practices in use. The VOCs are key starting ingredients that lead to the production of ozone, a lower-atmosphere pollutant regulated because of its health effects.
Other chemical reactions transform the emissions and gases in the air into airborne fine particles, which are also an air quality issue.
Methane emissions are a particular focus because, molecule-for-molecule, it is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Methane’s lower overall abundance in the atmosphere (compared to CO2) leads to its ranking as the second most important greenhouse gas emitted by human activities. Previous NOAA and CIRES work has shown that production activities in some basins emit far more methane than others.
The scientists hope their spring flights will provide a detailed and nuanced picture of emissions from industrial fossil fuel development zones. The missions will focus on basins that represent a mixture of oil and gas production regions at various stages of development.
More than a dozen instruments will fly aboard the Lockheed NOAA WP-3D Orion research aircraft to sample the air above fields in the Four Corners area to Texas, to Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and North Dakota. Flights will be based out of Colorado and Texas beginning in late March and extending throughout the month of April. (Summit County Citizen Voice, 3/28/2015)