Blue-Sky Thinking
Air Monitoring in the Peace River Area
By PRAMP

How has Peace River’s air quality changed over the years? With tighter provincial emission regulations, the results are promising. Pollutant levels are down in the Peace River area, meeting the Alberta government’s air quality objectives.

The Peace River Area Monitoring Program (PRAMP) runs 3 continuous air monitoring stations near the Peace River community. In 2010, our team built the first station in the Three Creeks area along Highway 986, followed by the second station along Highway 842. In January 2015, our third monitoring station in Reno began operation. We monitor total hydrocarbons (THC), non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC), total reduced sulphur (TRS), sulphur dioxide (SO2) as well as meteorology.

Changes in air monitoring results can be related to the updates to the Alberta Energy Regulator’s Directive 60: Upstream Petroleum Industry Flaring, Incinerating, and Venting. Heavy oil and bitumen operators in the Three Creeks and Reno areas were required to capture and flare, incinerate, or conserve all casing gas and tank-top gas by August 15, 2014. Other source control requirements have and will also be implemented. Our air monitoring data indicate the success of the implementation of these requirements.

With venting no longer allowed, THC and NMHC measurements and odour complaints to the AER have decreased. In Alberta, background THC primarily consists of naturally occurring methane with estimated annual average concentration of 1.9 parts per million (ppm). The THC annual average concentration in the Three Creeks area is now approaching background levels and we are trying to understand and locate the sources in the Reno area. The sources could be related to energy production, and to naturally occurring methane.

Elevated hydrocarbon concentrations appear to be associated with low wind speed, likely promoted by night-time gravitational drainage airflows from the sources to our monitors. NMHC measurements are now often zero. TRS measurements are also very low, and the maximum measurements are less than the Alberta ambient air quality objective (AAAQO) of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for hydrogen sulphide. SO2 measurements are also very low with the maximums much less than the AAAQO of 172 ppb.

Our researchers collect 1-hour integrated air samples during elevated NMHC events and analyze them for volatile organic compounds. As emissions and NMHC levels have reduced, we’ve collected fewer integrated air samples. At PRAMP, we’re continuously reviewing and updating our integrated monitoring practices.

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Peace River Area
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