Ethane and benzene are two of the many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released during the well development by hydraulic fracturing. Recent research taken along the Front Range shows a clear correlation between the drop in ethane and benzene spikes and the public release of real-time data of these VOCs. Monitoring of ethane and benzene began at the Longmont Union Reservoir and Boulder Reservoir on January 29th, 2020. Results show spikes for both ethane and benzene, including spikes in benzene with resulting concentrations between 1 to 10 parts per billion, which is well above national and international health guidelines.
In March 20th, 2020 this data was posted in real-time online on the public website Longmont AirLive. This was followed by several newspaper articles that then brought these monitoring results to public attention in early April.
The Union Reservoir data indicate how spikes for both ethane and benzene did not decrease in sync with a slowdown of traffic and industry activities from COVID restrictions, and did not bounce up again even as COVID-restrictions eased in the summer months and as oil prices recovered. Additionally, production data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration from the months of January through September do not scale with the drop in oil and gas pollution tracers that were monitored at the Longmont Union Reservoir.
As we can see, with both ethane and benzene, there was a remarkably lower frequency of pollution spikes and lower resulting peak concentrations once the real-time monitoring and public data posting were put in place.
It appears that a probable cause of the sharp drop in the ethane and benzene spikes during April of this year is the public release of these real-time monitoring results. A clear correlation exists between the drop in the ethane and benzene spikes happening right around the time window when the data became publicly available in a transparent manner to communities and industry and the facilitation of timely mitigation for pollution occurrences.
350 Colorado acknowledges the City of Longmont for facilitating the air monitoring and the Union Reservoir and thank Dr. Detlev Helmig from Boulder A.I.R. for making these data graphs available to 350 Colorado.