A recent study in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics indicates that drilling pads at oil and natural gas hydraulic fracturing sites are leaking and emitting a wide variety of chemicals across Utah’s Uintah Basin. As The Denver Post reports, the basin is the site of many active studies on emissions, with reports indicating that the largely desolate basin is registering higher winter ozone levels than New York City.
Using a mobile lab, researchers from the University of Colorado and NOAA visited 38 different gas well pads, 12 oil well pads, a new well, a re-fractured well and 17 other point-source sites. The researchers found high amounts of methane and methanol were emitted from the wellheads at these sites, while generators and pumps emitted large amounts of nitrogen dioxide. In just one four-day period, the study registered more than three parts per billion of benzene and toluene in the basin, nearly twice the national average for urban areas.
Another study released earlier in the year indicated high rates of release for toluene, which can affect the nervous system at high levels of exposure, and benzene, a carcinogen. As The Denver Post notes, these chemicals were found at higher rates in the basin than in the 28 largest U.S. Cities and Mexico City.
The University of Colorado’s Carsten Warneke, lead author on the study, told the paper, “The hope is that this [study] helps us understand what kinds of emissions are coming from which equipment on a site.”