At our October 2020 partners meeting we heard from two excellent presenters. First, we heard from Seth Lyman about wintertime ozone in the Uintah Basin. Seth is the Director of the Bingham Research Center and Associate Professor of the Department of Chemistry at Utah State University, and he was also named UCAIR’s 2020 Person of the Year. Then we got an air quality update from Bryce Bird, Director of the Division of Air Quality.
Uintah Basin Wintertime Ozone: Causes, Trends, and Outlook – Seth Lyman, Director of Bingham Research Center, Utah State University
The mission of the Bingham Research Center is to conduct research that can be used by industry and government to develop efficient and effective solutions to Uintah Basin air quality problems. They have received funding from the legislature to collect and analyze ambient air measurements, work to improve air quality computer models and characterize emissions sources through measurements and analysis. These tasks are especially important considering the unique air quality challenges the Uintah Basin encounter.
Typically, ozone is a summertime air quality concern. Wintertime ozone does occur but has only been documented in two places, the Uintah Basin in Utah and the Upper Green River Basin in the Pinedale, Wyoming area. The Uintah Basin is a marginal non-attainment area for ozone. Most winter ozone precursors in the basin are emitted from local oil and gas industry, which accounts for about 60% of the economy. The mix of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) the result from the production of oil and gas directly contribute to the high levels of ozone during winter months. Ozone levels peak in mid to late February is when there more sunlight and still plenty of snow on the ground to reflect the light and produce ozone. By comparison, the Wasatch Front’s ozone levels during this same period are relatively low. Ozone is a complex issue in this area because poor air quality is a serious health concern but the industries whose emissions drive ozone creation are also the main economic engines in the region.
Background ozone levels in the west are increasing as the region continues to develop. Despite this, the basin is moving towards meeting the EPA ozone standard over a five-year monitoring period. This progress is likely because of reduced nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in the area. VOCs are also decreasing throughout the basin, but at a slower rate. This could be the result of a slowdown in oil and gas production in the Uintah Basin. Additionally, more regulations have been placed on these industries to reduce emissions and it is possible that new wells may run more efficiently in the future. Modelling is an important part of moving from marginal non-attainment to attainment. Researchers at the Bingham Research Center have been working to refine ozone prediction models, which historically have underestimated actual ozone levels. The mix of pollution from oil and gas production are very different from the pollution that makes ozone in urban areas, requiring a model specific to the region. By reviewing the data, then adjusting the meteorology they have been able to tweak the models and create predictions that are much closer to what has actually been recorded.
DAQ Update – Bryce Bird, Director, Division of Air Quality
As we headed into September the days began to get shorter and the ozone levels seem to be tapering off. DAQ anticipates good air quality in the next couple months until winter inversion season begins. We have experienced smoky conditions along the Wasatch Front due to wildfire across the west. Due to COVID-19 most of the prescribed burns scheduled for the spring were cancelled. Some prescribed burns have been rescheduled and will be taking place until winter conditions set in. These burns will help to make future wildfires less intense and hopefully easier to contain.
The state initiative, A New Workplace, is aimed at moving state employees from the traditional office setting to teleworking. This initiative allows state employee more flexibility on where they want to live, keeps cars off of the road and frees up state office space for other uses. DEQ began a telework pilot program in 2018-2019, as the Wasatch Front non-attainment areas growth rate continued to rise. The processes and technology in place from that pilot program have greatly benefited the division during the pandemic. DEQ began working remotely in March 2020 and most employees are still working remotely. Currently, 36% of DEQ employees have committed to working outside the office at least 4 days per week and give up an assigned workspace. This change will reduce DEQ space utilization by 25%. More information about the initiative can be found on the A New Workplace webpage.
Following the presentation, partners shared what projects and initiatives they are currently working on. These included:
Sofia Nicholas, Salt Lake City Green – Theyare working to clear the debris from the storm of September 8th. Approximately 2,000 city owned trees and another 1,000 privately owned trees were destroyed. They are partnering with Tree Utah to help replant as many trees as possible. You can visit the ReTree SLC site to donate or learn how to volunteer.
Bonnie Christiansen, Weber State University – The Intermountain Sustainability Summit will be held in March 2021. They are accepting speaker proposals until Friday, November 6th.
Tammie Bostick, Utah Clean Cities – The Governor will declare November alternative fuels month. They are also launching a new beyond zero, Green Fleets program highlighting over 20 fleets in Utah.
Thom Carter, UCAIR –
- The Bipartisan Clean Air Caucus will meet on October 20th at 6:30 PM and is virtual and hosted on their Facebook page.
- The Utah Economic and Energy Summit will be held October 26th.
- Ballots arrive in your mail next week. I encourage everyone to study the issues and vote early. The presidential election takes up most of the airtime, but local races are equally important because they decide who will govern us here at home. Decisions are made by those who are in the room. So, take the time, show up, vote and get a seat in the room.
NEXT MEETING: November 13, 2020, 9:00-11:00 AM