Pollution of oil and gas production sites in the USA also visible from space

As evidence that oil and gas extraction has increased in several areas of the United States, a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters also uses satellite imagery to understand the impact levels of such a trend.

The researchers, as Barbara Dix of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder explains, were able to understand the growing impact of fossil fuel extraction in the United States even from satellites: “We are really at the point where we can use satellite data to provide feedback to companies and regulators and see if they are successful in regulating emissions.”

Together with her team, helped by another team of Dutch researchers, Dix used satellite tools to understand nitrogen oxide pollution, including nitrogen dioxide, from engines in large US oil and gas field factories. It is combustion engines that produce nitrogen oxides, gases that are irritating to the human respiratory system and also harmful in other respects.

We are talking about engines for drilling the ground, for the compression of gases, for the separation of liquids and gases and for moving the gas and oil themselves through pipes and storage containers, as explained by Joost de Gouw, professor of chemistry who participated in the study.

The results showed that between 2007 and 2019, in the United States, while the level of nitrogen dioxide pollution caused by vehicles and different types of power plants, many of which became electric, was decreasing, the same cannot be said for specific areas that are then those of oil and gas extraction, especially in New Mexico, Texas and North Dakota.