Award-winning air quality research in the Oil Sands region

Environmental Monitoring and Science Division (EMSD) scientist, Lucas Zhang, presented a paper at the 2016 Air and Waste Management Association (AWMA) Annual Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans. The peer-reviewed paper, titled “Monitoring of GHGs, VOCs, and Odour Compounds Using OP-FTIR in the Oil Sands Region in Alberta: A Case Study,” won the Young Professional Best Paper Award.

IMG_0697The paper outlines Lucas and his co-authors’ research in monitoring greenhouse gases (GHGs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odour compounds. These compounds have been attracting the attention of both policy-makers and the public because of the Climate Change initiatives Alberta and other jurisdictions have been taking, the potential health impacts of VOCs and odour concerns of the communities in the oil sands region.

In order to better characterize the air quality, Lucas uses a cutting-edge optical remote sensing technology, Open Path Fourier Transform Infrared spectrometer (OP-FTIR). In comparison with traditional air quality monitoring methods, using OP-FTIR allows us to monitoring of path-integrated concentrations for multiple compounds at once with high temporal resolution and spatial coverage. This helps create a more accurate picture of fugitive emissions. This technology has been used to monitor emissions in areas developed by upstream oil and gas as well as agriculture but it can also be used in natural areas such as over volcanoes or during forest fires.

The paper analyzes results from data collected in Fort McKay in 2014 and Fort McMurray in 2015. During this time, short-lived, significantly elevated emission episodes were captured from time to time under various wind directions. These episodes occurred sporadically and may not be noticed when looking at hourly or daily average data. The concentration peaks can be more easily recognized when looking at data of a high temporal resolution – five minute averages in this case.

Lucas was able to present the work and findings at the AWMA Annual Conference and Exhibition where he met top air experts from all over the world, received feedback on his work and learned more about different techniques for emissions quantification. Dr. Long Fu, Dr. Quamrul Huda and Dr. Zheng Yang from EMSD as well as Dr. Zaher Hashisho from University of Alberta are co-authors of the paper. IMG_0767

In future, this optical remote sensing technology could be used to monitor sources effecting a community and future EMSD FTIR projects are being developed in conjunction with Environment and Climate Change Canada and University of Alberta.

The authors would like to thank Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) for their logistic support; Fort McKay First Nation for the mutual trust and positive relationships; Shell Canada for accommodating the deployment of our equipment at AMS#9; and JOSM for the funding support.

The award-winning paper will be published in the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association in July 2016. Click here to view Lucas’ presentation at the AWMA’s Annual Conference.