Science Questions

  1. Climate: What is the effect of shale oil and natural gas production on emissions of radiative forcing agents?
  2. airborne measurement of methane graph

    [Karion et al., 2013]

    Airborne measurement of methane up- and downwind from oil and gas production fields in the Uintah basin in Utah. Methane fluxes were determined from the difference in integrated methane between the up- and downwind plumes, multiplied by the orthogonal wind speed and depth of the atmospheric boundary layer.

    • What are the emissions of methane from different shale basins?
    • What are the methane emissions as a fraction of the basin production and relative to the drilling activity?
    • What is the relative importance of distributed sources at wellheads versus centralized processing plants? What other sources of methane are present (agricultural, landfills)?
    • What determines the methane emissions from shale oil and gas production? What are the relative roles of raw oil and gas composition, industry practices, drilling activity and regulation?
    • Can we detect black carbon aerosol from gas flaring in the Bakken and Eagle Ford? If so, what are the emission strengths and is gas flaring a significant source of black carbon aerosol?

    Approach: For methane fluxes, box patterns around the shale regions of interest will be flown to integrate the horizontal fluxes going into and coming out of the box (see Figure). Correlation with other species (hydrocarbons) will be used to distinguish between natural gas and sources. For black carbon, exploratory flight legs near the areas where the density of flaring is the highest will be conducted. If significant emissions are found, box patterns to quantify them will be flown.

  3. Air quality: What are the emissions of ozone and aerosol precursors and how are they chemically transformed in the springtime atmosphere?
    • What are the emissions of hydrocarbons from different shale basins?
    • How do the hydrocarbon emissions compare between different basins, and how do they relate to raw oil and gas composition, industry practices and regulation?
    • What is the relative importance of distributed sources at wellheads (e.g. condensate tanks, dehydrators) versus centralized processing plants?
    • What are the emissions of nitrogen oxides? What is the relative importance of combustion sources at wellheads (separators, generators, pump jacks) versus mobile sources?
    • What are the chemical transformations of these emissions in the springtime atmosphere and how do they contribute to ozone and fine particle formation?

    Approach: The same box patterns as for the methane fluxes will address these questions. Additional downwind flight legs will be used to further study chemical transformations.

  4. Air Toxics: What are the mixing ratios of BTEX compounds and hydrogen sulfide?
    • What are mixing ratios and emissions of BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylenes) in different shale basins?
    • What fraction of ambient BTEX compounds can be attributed to oil and natural gas production?
    • What are the mixing ratios of hydrogen sulfide in different shale basins?
    • What is the relative importance of sources at wellheads versus evaporation ponds (where those are used)?

    Approach: Flight legs over shale basins will be used to determine the distribution in mixing ratios of different air toxics. High time-resolution measurements will be used to identify specific sources.

  5. Other questions: What are the emissions from other components of the U.S. energy infrastructure?
    • What are the emissions associated with surface coal mining? How do these emissions compare to emissions from natural gas production?
    • What are the emissions from coal and natural gas power plants? How do the chemical transformations in the plumes compare?
    • What are the emissions associated with the transport of crude oil by pipeline, and specifically from the major crossroads in the pipelines?
    • What are the emissions from biofuel refineries? How do these emissions compare with other stages of the lifecycle of a biofuel?

    Approach: Flight legs downwind from these sources will allow quantification of these emissions.