Daily Camera (Boulder)

Virus or­ders did not help air qual­ity

- By Katie Lang­ford Business · Energy · Industries · Boulder County · U.S. Environmental Protection Agency · Boulder · Mayor of Longmont, Colorado · City and County of Broomfield, Colorado · Matt L. Jones · Weld County · Broomfield

Boul­der County did not see a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in pol­lu­tion at the height of coro­n­avirus stay-ath­ome or­ders in April, ac­cord­ing to data pre­sented Thurs­day to the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers by air qual­ity re­searcher Detlev Helmig.

Helmig pre­sented data col­lected by his com­pany, Boul­der AIR, at five monitoring sta­tions — the Boul­der Reser­voir, Long­mont Union Reser­voir, Long­mont Mu­nic­i­pal Air­port and in Broom­field near the Liv­ingston ex­trac­tion pad and near Soar­ing Ea­gle Park.

The data for 2020 is pre­lim­i­nary, Helmig said, but he doesn’t an­tic­i­pate there will be big changes in the numbers af­ter ad­di­tional anal­y­sis.

Dif­fer­ent air qual­ity mon­i­tors track dif­fer­ent kinds of pol­lu­tants, in­clud­ing ni­tro­gen ox­ides, par­tic­u­late mat­ter, volatile or­ganic com­pounds and ozone. The em­pha­sis of Boul­der County’s monitoring pro­gram is to track pol­lu­tants re­lated to oil and gas op­er­a­tions, Helmig said.

He gave com­mis­sion­ers a look at April pol­lu­tant lev­els for the past three years,

which showed that 2020 did not see sig­nif­i­cant drops in ethane, propane, ben­zene, ni­tro­gen ox­ides or ozone de­spite fewer peo­ple driv­ing dur­ing stay-at-home or­ders.

“You could ar­gue that April 2020 was a lit­tle bit lower, but it wouldn’t be sta­tis­ti­cally de­fen­si­ble at all,” Helmig said. “It doesn’t look that much dif­fer­ent from 2017.”

It’s also dif­fi­cult to eval­u­ate be­cause of year-to-year vari­abil­ity and sea­sonal changes, he said.

Com­mis­sioner Matt Jones said he wasn’t sur­prised by the April data.

“We re­ceive a lot of pol­lu­tants from Weld County and the oil and gas wells there, and that makes our air qual­ity a lot worse,” Jones said.

The county uses air qual­ity data to lobby state law­mak­ers to tighten rules on oil and gas pro­duc­ers, he said.

“I think the state needs to have a lot, lot stronger rules,” Jones said. “They need to make sure that oil and gas does so much more to con­tain their pol­lu­tion.”

The county also saw spikes in par­tic­u­late mat­ter con­nected to lo­cal and na­tional wild­fires, and sev­eral days of par­tic­u­late mat­ter ex­ceeded the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s 24-hour health stan­dard. How­ever, Helmig said, air qual­ity mon­i­tors did not pick up sim­i­lar spikes in ozone lev­els.

Helmig also drew at­ten­tion to a July 10 event when sud­den wind changes caused ozone lev­els to drop quickly, and then rise again. Helmig said this shows how much ozone that’s com­ing in from other re­gions, com­pared to what’s pro­duced lo­cally.

“The lev­els we see mostly orig­i­nate in our own back­yard,” he said.

Boul­der AIR is also now post­ing al­most real-time data on air qual­ity for Boul­der, Long­mont and Broom­field, Helmig said. That can be viewed at boul­dair.com/ No­cofron­trange.htm.

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