In eastern Utah’s Uinta Basin, air quality is a complicated issue. Oil and natural gas are key parts of Utah’s economy, but they also create heavy concentrations of wintertime ozone.
On Thursday, Nov. 9, Seth Lyman explored this relationship during a USU Research Landscapes presentation in Salt Lake City.
The good news, Lyman said, is the problem is getting better. Although high ozone is still above federal standards in the basin, researchers have seen a steady decline in high ozone days each winter.
“We’re not done yet, but we’re moving in the right direction thanks to effort by a lot of people in our state,” Lyman, director of Utah State University’s Bingham Research Center, said. “Lots of work has been done since those early days.”
Utah State’s Bingham Research Center was established in 2010 in the basin to monitor ozone and other air quality concerns. It has come to play an important role in researching and reporting on the intersection between air quality and the energy industry.
“The vision for the center at its founding was really to do research to help understand Utah’s energy industry, because the energy industry and the economy of our region are interconnected, and to use that research to keep our area’s economy going,” Lyman said.
Typically, ozone forms in the summer, but the Uinta Basin is one of two locations in the United States where it forms in the winter. Altitude, latitude, snow cover, topography, and emissions from gas and oil production combine to sculpt the rare conditions that create wintertime ozone in the basin.
In the stratosphere, ozone provides an important barrier blocking radiation from the sun, but ozone creates health problems when it exists in high concentrations close to the surface of the Earth. High ozone amounts that conflict with health regulations and standards pose an economic threat to the oil and natural gas industry of the basin.
“If the winter ozone issue makes it too expensive to produce oil and gas in our region, that can be devastating to our area,” Lyman said.
The Uinta Basin is the primary source of oil and natural gas for the state of Utah, producing greater than 80% of the state’s oil and natural gas, which contribute about $15 billion to Utah’s economy each year. Oil and natural gas production is responsible for thousands of jobs in the basin and exists as a cornerstone of the region’s economy.
“When you fill up your car with gasoline or when you turn on the heater in your home and the natural gas furnace turns on, that energy is coming from the Uinta Basin,” Lyman said.
Those interested can view the full presentation on the Office of Research YouTube page.
Research Landscapes is an event series hosted by the Utah State University Office of Research and sponsored by O.C. Tanner. The series connects decision-makers across the Wasatch Front with the researchers exploring Utah’s land, water and air.
Learn more about past events and RSVP for future events at researchlandscapes.usu.edu.