AP NEWS

Longmont City Council to Consider Contract for Air Quality Study

March 5, 2019
City council on Tuesday will be asked to provide direction to staff on whether or not to pursue a contract for an air quality study that will take samples from a site near Union Reservoir east of the city, as well as a location in west Longmont.

If you go

What: Longmont City Council

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Civic Center council chambers, 350 Kimbark St.

Agenda: tinyurl.com/y5s8xffa

Longmont is considering hiring a contractor to conduct sampling and analysis of emissions from oil and gas operations near the city.

Data for the air quality monitoring study would be collected at two locations, one near Union Reservoir east of Longmont and the other on the west side of the city, according to a staff memo.

At city staff’s request, Detlev Helmig, founder of Boulder Atmosphere Innovation Research, has submitted a proposal for the multiple-year study.

Staff on Tuesday will seek council’s direction about whether to prepare a contract for the study, which would be considered for adoption at a future meeting.

The first year of the proposed Longmont-area regional air quality study — which has been suggested could last for at least five years — would cost the city an estimated $403,341 for the Union Reservoir site, and $154,905 for the west Longmont site.

The city also would pay a projected $50,000 to install building enclosures to store and shelter equipment and towers and make other improvements to the monitoring locations.

After the first year, the ongoing costs for subsequent years of air quality monitoring are anticipated to be about $150,000 annually.

Funding for the study would come from sustainability program funds in the city budget, as well as Longmont’s oil and gas royalty revenues, according to staff.

The study would be designed “to capture overall ambient air quality within and around the city associated with oil and gas operations,” staff stated.

It would provide high-resolution data of primary air pollutants, such as methane, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, from oil and gas operations, as well as secondary pollutants, such as ozone, small particulate matter and carbon dioxide.

Longmont also is located within a Front Range ozone nonattainment area, and staff stated regional monitoring stations would assist in efforts to understand the air quality impacts associated with motor vehicle emissions. A nonattainment area is one in which “air quality does not meet the ozone standards set by the federal government,” according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

Helmig “is renowned in this field,” according to the staff memo.

An associate professor at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Helmig has performed similar air quality monitoring at Boulder Reservoir for a project sponsored by Boulder County Public Health in partnership with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Researchers last year reported there was a strong correlation between northeasterly winds from Weld County and levels of petroleum hydrocarbons — such as methane, ethane and propane — in Boulder County’s air.

In May, council voted 6-1 to approve a $3 million agreement with TOP Operating and Cub Creek Energy that officials said would end oil and gas surface drilling within the city, as well as on city-owned properties such as the Union Reservoir Nature Area.

That agreement would not allow vertical drilling into Union Reservoir, but would permit horizontal hydraulic fracturing from off-site locations to free up oil and gas deposits deep beneath the reservoir — and the subsequent horizontal drilling and extraction of those minerals — although city staff in August told council that such exploration and production posed minimal risks to the quality of water in Union.

Tuesday, council will receive results of a baseline water quality study that found “no current evidence of hydraulic fracturing chemicals ... in any of five sampling locations in Union Reservoir,” according to staff.

Staff said last year’s water study findings by E. Michael Thurman and Imma Ferrer, of the University of Colorado Center for Environmental Mass Spectrometry — deliberately conducted prior to any fracking or drilling underneath Union Reservoir — will provide Longmont with comparison data if contamination occurs in the future.

The Thurman-Ferrer study also provides Longmont with reassurances that if there is a leak, spill, runoff or other migration from oil and gas sites, “it would be detected and reported based on these background measurements,” staff stated.

Thurman and Ferrer have recommended continued water quality sampling this year, which would cost Longmont about $150,000 and come from the city’s oil and gas royalty revenues, staff stated.

Contact Staff Writer John Fryar at 303-684-5211 or jfryar@times-call.com or twitter.com/jfryartc