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Oil and Gas Industry Research

2012 - 2016

NOAA and CIRES researchers have led a growing national and international effort to better understand the atmospheric implications of oil and gas activities. Our scientists have led intensive field campaigns during winter and sustained year-round measurements. They've used innovative partnerships and platforms (mobile vans, vehicles, tall towers, temporary towers) to deploy instruments that measure air composition upwind, in, and downwind of oil and gas fields. These efforts – which include industry, state, and other federal agencies as integral partners – have resulted in major scientific findings related to ozone pollution, other air quality challenges, and the climate effects of oil and gas activities. CSD researchers have published or contributed to many peer-reviewed science papers on these topics:

Recent Field Campaigns

SONGNEX 2015

SONGNEX 2015: Studying the air above shale oil and natural gas production areas in the western United States. Vast regions west of the Mississippi River are under development for oil and gas extraction, and the associated equipment has become a familiar sight on any cross-country road trip or flight. But while one focus is on what comes out of the ground, researchers and their colleagues, including principal investigator Joost de Gouw from CSD, are studying what escapes to the air – and how it is transformed in the atmosphere and affects air quality and climate. Read more...


WINTER 2015

WINTER 2015: Wintertime Investigation of Transport, Emissions, and Reactivity. This 6-week field campaign in early 2015 is taking airborne measurements of atmospheric gases and particles that can affect air quality. Scientists, including principal investigator Steven Brown from CSD, are using instruments on board an NSF/NCAR research aircraft to sample several kinds of pollution sources in the mid-Atlantic and southeastern US, including oil and gas extraction fields. Read more...


  • E. E. McDuffie, P. M. Edwards, J. B. Gilman, B. M. Lerner, W. P. Dubé, M. Trainer, D. E. Wolfe, W. M. Angevine, J. deGouw, E. J. Williams, A. G. Tevlin, J. G. Murphy, E. V. Fischer, S. McKeen, T. B. Ryerson, J. Peischl, J. S. Holloway, K. Aikin, A. O. Langford, C. J. Senff, R. J. Alvarez II, S. R. Hall, K. Ullmann, K. O. Lantz, and S. S. Brown, Influence of oil and gas emissions on summertime ozone in the Colorado northern Front Range, Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1002/2016JD025265, 2016. The first peer‐reviewed study to directly quantify how emissions from oil and gas activities influence summertime ozone pollution in the Colorado Front Range confirms that chemical vapors from oil and gas activities are a significant contributor to the region's chronic ozone problem. Read more...
  • J. Peischl, A. Karion, C. Sweeney, E. A. Kort, M. L. Smith, A. R. Brandt, T. Yeskoo, K. C. Aikin, S. A. Conley, A. Gvakharia, M. Trainer, S. Wolter, and T. B. Ryerson, Quantifying atmospheric methane emissions from oil and natural gas production in the Bakken shale region of North Dakota, Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 2016. The Bakken oil and gas field is leaking a lot of methane, but less than some satellites report, and less than the latest Environmental Protection Agency average estimate for petroleum systems, according to the researchers' calculations. This study provides a key snapshot of Bakken methane emissions that will help answer the bigger questions: how much methane is the U.S. emitting, where is it coming from, and how is that changing over time. Read more...
  • E. A. Kort, M. L. Smith, L. T. Murray, A. Gvakharia, A. R. Brandt, J. Peischl, T. B. Ryerson, C. Sweeney, and K. Travis, Fugitive emissions from the Bakken shale illustrate role of shale production in global ethane shift, Geophysical Research Letters, 2016. The Bakken shale basin saw a steep increase in oil and gas activity over the past decade, powered by advances in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and horizontal drilling. Between 2005 and 2014, the Bakken's oil production jumped by a factor of 3,500, and its gas production by 180. This boom in US oil and gas brought about by fracking is increasing ethane concentrations a continent away. Read more...
  • S. Conley, G. Franco, I. Faloona, D. R. Blake, J. Peischl, and T. B. Ryerson, Methane emissions from the 2015 Aliso Canyon blowout in Los Angeles, CA, Science, 2016. A team of researchers led by NOAA and Scientific Aviation published the first study to quantify total methane emissions from the Aliso Canyon blowout. During the 112-day event, the well leaked almost as much methane pollution as the entire Los Angeles Basin. The accident's impact on climate will be equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from over half a million passenger cars. Read more...
  • Joshua P. Schwarz, John S. Holloway, Joseph M. Katich, Stuart McKeen, Eric A. Kort, Mackenzie L. Smith, Thomas B. Ryerson, Colm Sweeney, and Jeff Peischl, Black Carbon Emissions from the Bakken Oil and Gas Development Region, Environmental Science & Technology Letters, 2015. The study has made the first direct measurements of how much black carbon, the major component of airborne particles that are commonly referred to as "soot," is emitted by flaring operations in the Bakken oil and gas fields in North Dakota. Black carbon is a product of incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and biomass. Its absorption properties make it a warming influence on climate and it is harmful to human health. Read more...
  • J.A. de Gouw, S.A. McKeen, K.C. Aikin, C.A. Brock, S.S. Brown, J.B. Gilman, M. Graus, T. Hanisco, J.S. Holloway, J. Kaiser, F.N. Keutsch, B.M. Lerner, J. Liao, M.Z. Markovic, A.M. Middlebrook, K.-E. Min, J.A. Neuman, J.B. Nowak, J. Peischl, I.B. Pollack, J.M. Roberts, T.B. Ryerson, M. Trainer, P.R. Veres, C. Warneke, A. Welti, G.M. Wolfe, Airborne Measurements of the Atmospheric Emissions from a Fuel Ethanol Refinery, Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 2015. The study indicates that the refining process should be on the ledger sheet when accounting for the atmospheric effects of ethanol production and use. After quantifying the airborne emissions from the nation's third largest ethanol refinery, de Gouw and colleagues found that for some gases, refining ethanol releases more to the atmosphere than is ultimately released by burning the fuel in vehicles. Read more...
  • J. Peischl, T. B. Ryerson, K. C. Aikin, J. A. de Gouw, J. B. Gilman, J. S. Holloway, B. M. Lerner, R. Nadkarni, J. A. Neuman, J. B. Nowak, M. Trainer, C. Warneke, and D. D. Parrish, Quantifying atmospheric methane emissions from the Haynesville, Fayetteville, and northeastern Marcellus shale gas production regions, Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 2015. This paper looked at regional variations in methane emissions from natural gas production and found that methane leaks from three large regions of natural gas development (Pennsylvania, Texas, and Arkansas) totaled about 1.1 percent of gas produced in those regions. The overall leak rate from those basins are lower than leak rates measured in other gas fields and close to estimates made by the Environmental Protection Agency. Read more...
  • R. Ahmadov, S. McKeen, M. Trainer, R. Banta, W. A. Brewer, S. Brown, P. M. Edwards, J. A. de Gouw, G. J. Frost, J. Gilman, D. Helmig, B. Johnson, A. Karion, A. Koss, A. Langford, B. Lerner, J. Olson, S. Oltmans, J. Peischl, G. Pétron, Y. Pichugina, J. M. Roberts, T. Ryerson, R. Schnell, C. Senff, C. Sweeney, C. Thompson, P. R. Veres, C. Warneke, R. Wild, E. J. Williams, B. Yuan, and R. Zamora, Understanding high wintertime ozone pollution events in an oil and natural gas producing region of the western US, Atmospheric Chemistry & Physics, 2014. This paper used an air quality model to better understand high wintertime ozone episodes in northeastern Utah in 2013. When the team used EPA estimates of emissions in the region, the model did not produce the observed episodes of elevated ozone pollution. When run using top-down emissions estimates, based on data collected during field missions in Utah, the model produced high ozone episodes and showed that high emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil and natural gas operations were a major factor in those episodes. Read more...
  • C. Warneke, Geiger, F., Edwards, P. M., Dube, W., Pétron, G., Kofler, J., Zahn, A., Brown, S. S., Graus, M., Gilman, J. B., Lerner, B. M., Peischl, J., Ryerson, T. B., de Gouw, J. A., and Roberts, J. M., Volatile organic compound emissions from the oil and natural gas industry in the Uinta Basin, Utah: Point sources compared to ambient air composition, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 2014. This paper identifies the key sources of VOCs in detail: gas wells using dry-gas collection, a flowback point near a recently hydraulically re-fractured gas well; oil and gas condensate tank flashing; and pneumatic devices and pumps. Read more...
  • P. M. Edwards, S. S. Brown, J. M. Roberts, R. Ahmadov, R. M. Banta, J. A. deGouw, W. P. Dubé, R. A. Field, J. H. Flynn, J. B. Gilman, M. Graus, D. Helmig, A. Koss, A. O. Langford, B. L. Lefer, B. M. Lerner, R. Li, S.-M. Li, S. A. McKeen, S. M. Murphy, D. D. Parrish, C. J. Senff, J. Soltis, J. Stutz, C. Sweeney, C. R. Thompson, M. K. Trainer, C. Tsai, P. R. Veres, R. A. Washenfelder, C. Warneke, R. J. Wild, C. J. Young, B. Yuan, and R. Zamora, High winter ozone pollution from carbonyl photolysis in an oil and gas basin, Nature, 2014. This paper deals with the chemistry of ozone pollution formation in winter, in the Uintah Basin of Utah. It shows that chemicals released into the air by oil and gas activities can spark reactions that lead to high levels of ozone in wintertime – levels high enough to exceed federal health-based standards. The work may also help explain emerging air quality issues associated with oil and gas development elsewhere around the world. Read more...
  • G. Pétron, A. Karion, C. Sweeney, B. R. Miller, S. A. Montzka, G. J. Frost, M. Trainer, P. Tans, A. Andrews, J. Kofler, D. Helmig, D. Guenther, E. Dlugokencky, P. Lang, T. Newberger, S. Wolter, B. Hall, P. Novelli, W.A. Brewer, S. Conley, R.M. Hardesty, R. Banta, A. White, D. Noone, D. Wolfe, and R. Schnell, A new look at methane and nonmethane hydrocarbon emissions from oil and natural gas operations in the Colorado Denver-Julesburg Basin, Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 2014. Pétron and colleagues, following up on earlier observations of high levels of chemical pollutants in the air over northeastern Colorado, conducted targeted airborne measurements of the area. The two days of measurements in 2012 showed that oil and gas operations produced elevated levels of methane (a greenhouse gas), benzene (an air toxic), and other chemicals that contribute to summertime ozone pollution. Read more...
  • J. de Gouw, D. Parrish, G. Frost, and M. Trainer, Reduced emissions of CO2, NOx and SO2 from U.S. power plants owing to switch from coal to natural gas with combined cycle technology, Earth's Future, 2014. de Gouw and colleagues found that power plants using natural gas and a new technology to squeeze more energy from the fuel release far less carbon dioxide during energy production than coal-fired power plants do, and that these so-called "combined cycle" natural gas power plants also release significantly less nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, which can worsen air quality. Read more...
  • A. Karion, C. Sweeney, G. Pétron, G. Frost, R. M. Hardesty, J. Kofler, B. R. Miller, T. Newberger, S. Wolter, R. Banta, W. A. Brewer, E. Dlugokencky, P. Lang, S. A. Montzka, R. Schnell, P. Tans, M. Trainer, R. Zamora, and S. Conley, Methane emissions estimate from airborne measurements over a western United States natural gas field, Geophysical Research Letters, 2013. Karion and colleagues tested a new way to measure methane emissions from a natural gas production field, a mass-balance approach that could help researchers and regulators track pollutants emitted by oil and gas fields. The researchers found that on one winter day in Utah's Uintah Basin, the natural gas field leaked 6 to 12 percent of the methane produced on an average winter day. Read more...
  • J. Peischl, T. B. Ryerson, J. Brioude, K. C. Aikin, A. E. Andrews, E. Atlas, D. Blake, B. C. Daube, J. A. de Gouw, E. Dlugokencky, G. J. Frost, D. R. Gentner, J. B. Gilman, A. H. Goldstein, R. A. Harley, J. S. Holloway, J. Kofler, W. C. Kuster, P. M. Lang, P. C. Novelli, G. W. Santoni, M. Trainer, S. C. Wofsy, and D. D. Parrish, Quantifying sources of methane using light alkanes in the Los Angeles basin, California, Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 2013. Peischl and colleagues, searching for the source of previously unexplained high levels of methane in the Los Angeles basin, found that the "extra" methane is likely coming from sources related to fossil fuels, including leaks from natural gas pipelines and other oil/gas activities and seepage from natural geologic sites such as the La Brea tar pits. Read more...
  • J. B. Gilman, B. M. Lerner, W. C. Kuster, and J. de Gouw, Source signature of volatile organic compounds from oil and natural gas operations in Northeastern Colorado, Environmental Science and Technology, 2013. Gilman and colleagues used a sophisticated chemical fingerprinting technique to identify the sources of various volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in northeastern Colorado. They found that oil and gas operations produce more than 50 percent the emissions of VOCs in the area; VOCs can serve as a trigger for wintertime ozone pollution in the region. Read more...
  • G. Pétron, G. Frost, B. R. Miller, A. I. Hirsch, S. A. Montzka, A. Karion, M. Trainer, C. Sweeney, A. E. Andrews, L. Miller, J. Kofler, A. Bar-Ilan, E. J. Dlugokencky, L. Patrick, C. T. Moore Jr., T. B. Ryerson, C. Siso, W. Kolodzey, P. M. Lang, T. Conway, P. Novelli, K. Masarie, B. Hall, D. Guenther, D. Kitzis, J. Miller, D. Welsh, D. Wolfe, W. Neff, and P. Tans, Hydrocarbon emissions characterization in the Colorado Front Range: A pilot study, Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 2012. Pétron and colleagues, through routine tall-tower monitoring of atmospheric composition north of Denver, detected unexpectedly high levels of chemical pollutants in the air. Further sampling by mobile laboratory (an outfitted vehicle driving on public roads) showed that the elevated levels of air pollutants, including methane, came primarily from oil and gas production in northeastern Colorado's Weld County. Read more...