Saturday, March 24, 2018
Accounting for Denver’s Ozone

Accounting for Denver’s Ozone

First study to quantify effect of oil and gas emissions on ozone problem

The first peer-reviewed study to quantify oil and gas emissions on Colorado's northern Front Range confirms that energy development is an important contributor to the region’s chronic ozone problem. The NOAA-CIRES research was published August 8 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.

With ozone, Denver faces a triple whammy - a basin topography that captures and holds high background ozone levels, high nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels from metro traffic, and daily infusions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including from oil and gas activities, which react with NOx to form ozone during hot summer days. Denver has been out of attainment with EPA’s ozone standard since 2007.

Installing air sensor

Installing air sensor

A technician installs an air quality sensor atop NOAA’s 980-foot tall Boulder Atmospheric Observatory tower. Sensors were placed at different altitudes on the tower to measure ozone and nitrogen dioxide. (NOAA)
Researchers analyzed nearly 50,000, high-precision measurements of chemical vapors taken at one location along Colorado’s Front Range with a new modeling technique that sorted out the contributions of oil and gas activities, said lead author Erin McDuffie, a scientist with CIRES, the  NOAA cooperative institute at the University of Colorado Boulder.

They found that on average, oil and gas emissions account for about 17 percent of the daily infusion of VOCs that create ground-level ozone. Since background ozone levels above Denver is already high, VOCs from any source, including oil and gas activities, are significant, said NOAA co-author Steven Brown.

Brown and McDuffie hope to use the new approach to study ozone problems in Colorado, Utah, and other states. “We expect this technique to help us better understand what factors are contributing to air quality challenges elsewhere in the West,” McDuffie said.

Go online to read the CIRES story on the new research.

For more information please contact Theo Stein, NOAA Communications at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, at 303-497-6288 or by email at




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