First Quarter Report of Air Quality Monitoring Program Yields Baselines and Questions about Frequency

By Becky McLeod

At a very full May 14 Study Session, Broomfield’s City Council heard their first quarterly baseline report from Ajax Analytics representative Brent Buck and Dr. Arsineh Hecobian from Colorado State University.  This first air quality monitoring program presentation was the result of the City’s August 2018 contract with Ajax at a cost of $1.1 million dollars through 2019, made necessary by Extraction’s six pad development of 84 wells across northern Broomfield.

This was the first quarterly report of the air quality monitoring program, which began operation in October 2018 from nineteen monitoring stations shown on the map below.  Canister samples taken throughout northern Broomfield at these sites have provided air samples which have now been analyzed by Ajax Analytics.

So far, nothing out of the ordinary has been found but drilling had not yet begun during this sampling period. During this period, pad construction activities began at Interchange B on December 10 and spudding began on March 21.  Construction on the Livingston Pad began in early February.  Please see the latest Extraction schedule given to the City here. The next sampling period should show whether or not Extraction’s drilling and completion operations have produced an uptick in the amount of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) released into the air.

With odor complaints near the Interchange pad raising questions about what is being emitted during drilling there, residents have suggested to the City that air quality monitoring reports need to be done at least monthly, not quarterly.  If averaging is done in quarterly reports, it minimizes spikes and residents will not receive data in a timely manner to make individual health decisions.  At the meeting, Mr. Buck stated that more frequent reporting would require a cost analysis to see if Ajax could provide that within the current budget. 

Mr. Buck’s presentation to Broomfield City Council provided high level data that was easy for the unscientific-minded to understand.  Ajax can differentiate various sources which produce VOCs and particulate matter.  These sources can be traffic, gas stations, cattle herds and oil and gas operations. Their goal is to know what is in the air, to identify sources and minimize assumptions.

During this first quarter process, Ajax analyzed 128 air canister samples.  They found that measurements were within expectations.  VOC measurements were below health guideline values. Benzene measured highest of any VOCs but was still considered relatively low.

Ajax’s nineteen sensors record data every 15 minutes, in a weekly period measured from Thursday through Thursday. These sensors can be seen in various places throughout northern Broomfield, in parks, near schools and in neighborhoods. 

A mobile plume tracker can also be dispatched, which may be particularly useful at night during significant events such as air inversions.  The plume tracker looks for patterns and sources during poor weather conditions. The plume tracker is sent out for eight hour deployments at specific times.

There is a public portal which shows data management, a public overview, alerts, notifications and events. It also helps users see an event. 

Key findings noted in the 66-page report are:

1) Measurements are within expectations.

2) VOCs are below health guidelines.

3) All measurements serve as background prior to oil and gas operations in Broomfield.

4) VOCs are influenced by regional emissions and by traffic.

5) Some days show an increase in particulate matter.

The next July 20, 2019 report will include comparisons between the first and the second analysis.  Ajax is looking for changes due to plugging and abandonment operations of old wells and is looking for “hot spots.”

After the presentation by Ajax, City Council members were able to ask questions. Council Member Castriotta asked about a sensor malfunction in March where all the sensors had to be replaced.  Council Member Shaff noted that Broomfield’s background level readings were basically the same as Weld County. Mr. Buck attributed that to air masses moving into Broomfield from Weld County, as he noted that they can trace where the air masses originate.

Council Member Groom asked where Benzene was coming from. Mr. Buck replied it was coming from oil and gas operations, vehicle exhaust, gas stations and their storage tanks and gasoline. Council Member Groom stated that she did not think increased expenses for more frequent regular reporting were necessary but could be done on “report by exception” basis.

Council Member Tessier wanted to know if it would be possible to correlate studies of disease with the information Ajax is providing but she was told that it is beyond the scope of Ajax operations. She also wanted to know what the air quality statistics are for a town with no oil and gas development.  There was no knowledge of this to provide to her. 

Mr. Buck stated that the mission of Ajax is to know what is happening through data analysis and to provide the truest story with the data they collect.