Air pollution from oil and gas production is visible from space

In recent years, oil and gas production has doubled in parts of the U.S. According to a report published yesterday (January 15), not only is this contributing to climate change, but it is also a major air pollution concern.

A group of scientists from the University of Colorado set out to investigate how nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution has changed as patterns of oil and gas production have changed. 

On oil and gas drilling sites there are likely to be several combustion engines which produce high levels of NO2.

Joost de Gouw, chemistry professor and co-author of the study said: ‘The emissions from these engines are not controlled. 

‘Cars have catalytic convertors, big industrial stacks may have emission reduction equipment, not these engines.’ 

In order to measure the pollution from these engines, the researchers analysed NO2 data from the Ozone Monitoring system onboard a NASA satellite. 

They found that between 2007-2019, NO2 pollution levels had greatly increased around areas where there are oil and gas drilling sites in Texas and New Mexico. 

To accompany these findings, the researchers also developed a new oil and gas emissions inventory, using data on fuel by the industry, the location of the drilling, and production data. 

Based on the inventory, they found that the satellite images confirmed trends in the industry, during times of increased drilling there were higher levels of air pollution.

Co-author of the study, Brian Mcdonald said: ‘It is a promising development that what we can observe from space can be explained by expected trends in the emissions from the oil and gas industry.

‘Scientifically, this is especially important, we can do source attribution by satellite. 

‘We need to know the important sources to address these emissions in the most cost-effective manner.’ 

In related news, in November last year (2019), the UK government announced plans to spend £315m to cut industrial emissions. 

The Industrial Energy Transformation Fund (IETF) will provide funding for businesses with high power use to cut their carbon emissions by investing in efficiency measures.

The government has said that they hope this investment will shrink industrial emissions by around 2 million tonnes between 2028 and 2032, which they claim is the equivalent to taking nearly 200,000 cars off the road every year.

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