(CBS4) – The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment took a step toward high-tech monitoring of methane emissions last week when a single-engine plane made the first of several planned flights over oil and gas operations.
It’s the first such survey conducted by the state. It comes at an estimated cost $2 million this year.
The craft will cruise the northern Front Range – Boulder, Larimer and Weld counties. More specifically, what the energy industry calls the Denver-Julesberg Basin.
It will measure observable plumes of emissions, mainly looking for methane but also ethane, benzene and toluene.
“Aerial surveys have the potential to identify and significantly reduce leaks from pipelines/flowlines , production pads, tanks, central gathering facilities, compressor stations,” health department staff stated in a presentation to the Air Quality Control Commission in March. “Identifying and resolving these leaks not only results in reduced exposure to organic compounds that can affect public health and emissions of ozone precursors, it prevents the economic waste of the product.”
Measurements will be matched with data gathered on the ground by a monitoring van that the health department expects to take possession of in August. Satellite imagery will also contribute.
“We’re bringing precision technology to the task of monitoring for emissions,” said Garry Kaufman, director of CDPHE’s Air Pollution Control Division.
“The resulting data will inform how we approach regulating oil and gas operations and other emitting sites in Colorado,” said Shaun McGrath, director of environmental health and protection at CDPHE.
The plane’s tasks will be divided among four different “phases” assigned to teams from universities and private laboratories. Those teams include Colorado State University and University of Colorado personnel.
Money for the operations comes from the Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin Memorial Public Projects Fund. Martinez and Irwin were killed in April 2017 when natural gas leaked into a Firestone residence from an abandoned flowline. The home exploded.
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found Anadarko Petroleum at fault. Three years later, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) assessed an $18.25 million penalty against Occidental Petroleum, which had purchased Anadarko.