To individuals living along the Wasatch Front and in the Uinta Basin, inversions are not a new phenomena. However, studies have shown that industries can dramatically affect what is trapped in an inversion.
Dr. Randy Martin is an associate research professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Utah State University. He has worked on oil and gas research in the Uintah Basin since 2010 when sensors were first installed to monitor the air quality.
“Here in the Uintah Basin they have an abundance of oil and gas exploration and production and while they’ve gotten better at what we call fugitive emissions, emissions that are leaking from various places. When we first started doing studies out there, they weren’t as tightly controlled,” Martin said.
Escaped gases can react in the atmosphere to create things like ozone gas, which can be harmful to human health.
“Ozone, in general, is considered a summertime phenomena, because it takes three things to make ozone, roughly, two gas compounds called oxides of nitrogen and hydrocarbons and the other ingredient is sunlight,” Martin said.
Martin says that snow cover in winter, amplifies the amount of sunlight available, making wintertime ozone pollution in Utah’s oil and gas fields a problem. Installed sensors have allowed researchers to monitor air quality conditions from year to year.
“A lot of that is tied to whether we have a strong winter, where you have inversions form. If you don’t get snow on the ground particularly out in the Uintah Basin, we’re not going to see an ozone problem,” he said.
This is important for states and industries seeking attainment and also for individuals planning their winter activities.
To learn more about ozone pollution, see the following informational page, provided by the Environmental Protection Agency, here.