Trace gas emissions and fine particulates are undergoing scrutiny at U.S. onshore production sites over the next two months to determine how air quality is affected.

The Shale Oil and Natural Gas Nexus, SONGNEX 2015, launched the first of 15 flights on Monday across western and Midcontinent oil and gas producing areas in various stages of development. Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are working collaboratively with the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. Flights using the NOAA WP-3D are to take off and land from airfields in the Denver area and from at least one Texas location.

Trace emissions are to be captured from the Bakken Shale, as well as the San Juan, Denver-Julesburg (DJ), Powder River, Green River and Uinta basins. Data on emissions also is to be taken from the Cushing, OK, oil hub and the Woodford, Fayetteville, Barnett, Haynesville and Eagle Ford shales.

“The basins are chosen to represent a significant fraction of the production as well as different stages of the development of a basin,” said NOAA scientists. “In addition, we will study several other components of the energy infrastructure, including surface coal mines in Wyoming, coal and natural gas power plants, a major intersection of crude oil pipelines in Oklahoma, and biofuel refineries where ethanol is made from corn.”

Concerns about the trace emissions are three-fold: determine their impact on the climate, air quality and whether toxic emissions have direct health effects. The results would “allow communities and society as a whole to make the best decisions to minimize these effects.”

Of interest in the Bakken and Eagle Ford oilfields is flared gas, according to NOAA. The Upper Green River Valley in Wyoming is where winter ozone formation was first observed, and the Uintah in Utah also has winter ozone formation, with methane emissions found to be as high as 6.2-11.7% of production (see Daily GPI,Aug. 6, 2013).

In the DJ Basin, where multiple studies also have been completed, NOAA plans to collect additional data on methane emissions, hydrocarbons and air toxics. Scientists also want to confirm data from the Haynesville Shale in Texas, where emission levels in previous studies appeared to be lower than in Utah and Colorado.

“Over the past decades, the U.S. has effectively addressed air quality issues and it is important to assure that the changes in our energy infrastructure do not negate some of these positive changes,” NOAA said. “Likewise, as the nation is increasingly focused on mitigating the effects of climate change, it is important to know the net changes in emissions of greenhouse gases and other trace gases and fine particles that force the climate to change.”

Information is to be made available to stakeholders in the states involved, NOAA said. Also, scientists previously worked on winter ozone formation in collaboration with industry groups, “which has been mutually beneficial. We will continue to communicate with these groups regarding mutual research interests.”

SONGNEX is but one project to collect data about air emissions from oil and gas sites.

The Front Range Air Pollution and Photochemistry Experiment, or FRAPPE, is a collaboration of Colorado regulators, NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Scientists also used aerial surveys over the state’s Front Range last year to track methane emissions and other gases. FRAPPE focused on overall air quality but it also provided contributions from the oil and gas industry and agriculture. FRAPPE researchers are preparing the results.

The Environmental Defense Fund also has at least a half dozen methane-related emissions studies that it is preparing, some with energy industry support. One study is tracking methane from natural gas distribution pipelines in Boston, Indianapolis and Staten Island in New York City (see Daily GPI, July 16, 2014).

EDF three years ago embarked on a joint project with the University of Texas at Austin and nine U.S. natural gas producers on the largest-ever gas leak detection project (see Daily GPI, Oct. 11, 2012). EDF and West Virginia University also partnered with eight operators to study fugitive methane emissions (see Daily GPI, March 6, 2013). EDF also has studied emissions from gas well sites, processing facilities, long distance pipelines, as well as commercial trucks and refueling stations. Last month a Colorado State University study on gas pipeline emissions sponsored by EDF and industry found that only a few sites contributed most measured methane emissions, suggesting faulty equipment was to blame (see Daily GPI,Feb. 10).