2014 News & Events

ESRL Scientists Win Colorado Governor's Award for Oil & Gas Atmospheric Research

16 October 2014

A team of NOAA and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) scientists from the Earth System Research Laboratory's Chemical Sciences Division, Global Monitoring Division, and Physical Sciences Division has won a 2014 Colorado Governor's Award for High-Impact Research.

2014 Governor's Award for High-Impact Research in Atmospheric Science goes to researchers at NOAA / CIRES for their work in understanding the air quality effects of oil and gas activities.Video: CO-LABS

The nomination by CIRES Director Waleed Abdalati is titled "Into the Air: Helping the public and policy makers understand the air quality and other atmospheric effects of oil and gas activities in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and beyond." NOAA scientist James Roberts (CSD) and CIRES scientist Gabrielle Pétron (GMD) are named in the award as representatives of the 64 scientists who worked on the associated 11 papers and one education and outreach project (and who are co-recipients of the award).

This work will be highlighted in this year's November 12 awards ceremony as leading research in the category of Atmospheric Science. "Into the Air" is also receiving an Honorary Mention for contributions to Public Health in air quality assessment. The NOAA/CIRES award is one of four awards for the 2014 cycle.

The award recognizes research accomplishments from a very active area of collaboration between CSD, GMD, and PSD to understand the atmospheric impacts of the rapidly expanding oil and gas exploration and production activities in the U.S. Air quality and climate challenges are occurring in several regions in the western U.S. where thousands of oil and gas wells dot the landscape. By providing careful and independent measurements and analysis, the recipients have filled a data gap for decision-makers striving to make challenging decisions about how to meet health-based air quality standards and to understand how energy choices affect our atmosphere in other ways, such as warming.

truck bed with equipment
Jim Roberts and CSD researchers in Utah. Photo: CIRES

Over the past seven years, the researchers have carried out studies in three states (Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming). The work began in Wyoming, where monitoring equipment detected surprisingly high levels of ozone pollution – usually a summertime urban pollutant – in a sparsely populated region in the wintertime. Subsequent work included measurements in Colorado as well as deployments in Utah's Uintah basin in three successive winters. The results have been presented in nearly a dozen papers and in several briefings to stakeholders and air quality managers in those states. The studies discovered that high wintertime ozone episodes result from a convergence of three factors: oil and natural gas extraction activities that release the chemical precursors of ozone into the air; weather patterns that trap those chemicals close to the ground; and extensive snow cover, which amplifies the amount of sunlight available to jumpstart the chemical reactions that create ozone.

This research by NOAA and CIRES scientists meets immediate needs for policy-relevant information regarding the atmospheric impacts of domestic oil and gas exploration and production activities, which are increasing as the nation strives to achieve greater energy independence. Strong stakeholder interactions throughout the research included state and federal regulators (e.g., EPA , Utah Division of Air Quality, Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment) and private industry (e.g., the Western Energy Alliance and instrument manufacturer Picarro, Inc.). The information is of immediate practical significance to (1) air quality managers in the three states, who are interested in strategies to avoid exceedances of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards and thereby protect the public health; and (2) oil and gas industry technologists, who can use the detailed information from the studies to develop effective and economical methods to reduce emissions from their exploration and production activities. As noted by Brock LeBaron of Utah's Division of Air Quality, explaining why the state funded some the research: Air quality challenges in the region, if not addressed, could force changes that would impact economic livelihoods.

A team of CIRES and NOAA scientists have won one of the 2014 Governor's Awards for High-Impact research, for their work investigating the atmospheric impacts of rapidly expanding oil and gas development across The West.

Current and former CSD scientists receiving the award: Ravan Ahmadov, Ken Aikin, Robert Banta, Jerome Brioude, Alan Brewer, Steve Brown, Joost DeGouw, William Dubé, Pete Edwards, Joost de Gouw, Gregory J. Frost, Jessica B. Gilman, Martin Graus, R. Michael Hardesty, J.S. Holloway, Abigail Koss, William Kuster, Andy Langford, Brian Lerner, Rui Li, Stuart McKeen, Ryan R. Neely, David Parrish, Jeff Peischl, Yelena Pichugina, James Roberts, Thomas Ryerson, Christoff Senff, Michael Trainer, Patrick Veres, Carsten Warneke, Rebecca Washenfelder, Robert Wild, Eric Williams, Cora Young, and Bin Yuan.

Additional Detail of the 11 papers and 1 outreach project cited in the nomination: