Science & Technology

USU-Uintah Basin Scientists' Research Improves Regulatory Outlook

Research conducted by Utah State University’s Bingham Research Center led to a marginal, rather than moderate, ozone nonattainment designation for the Uintah Basin by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA).  Marginal is the lowest and least onerous classification, providing more regulatory flexibility. The EPA nearly designated a large portion of the Uintah Basin as moderate non-attainment of the federal ozone standard. This designation would have led to stringent and costly regulations on the local oil and gas industry, negatively impacting the Uintah Basin’s economy. 

“Were it not for the work done by our research team, the Uintah Basin would be under a moderate non-attainment designation today,” said Seth Lyman, director of USU Bingham Energy Research Center. “This will allow industry and regulators time and flexibility to develop cost-effective solutions to the Uinta Basin’s ozone problems.” 

Huy Tran, a senior research scientist at USU’s Bingham Research Center, focuses on developing better computer simulations. While working on summertime ozone models, Tran noticed from the model output that two summer ozone exceedance days were caused by an intrusion of ozone-rich air from the stratosphere. EPA allows for natural-caused exceedances of the ozone standard to be excluded from regulatory averages. Once Tran discovered these two days, The Bingham Center team worked with regulatory agencies to have them approved for exclusion. This dropped the three-year ozone average from 81 parts-per-billion (ppb) to 80 ppb – or from moderate non-attainment to marginal in the Uintah Basin.

In three years, the EPA will review whether or not the Uintah Basin will achieve attainment of EPA’s standards or bump up to moderate non-attainment. During that time, regulators and industry will be working to achieve ozone attainment. To better ensure these actions are successful, the Bingham Research Center will continue in-depth research to understand the issue better so the regulators and industry professionals will have good information to make those decisions.

Since 2010, the USU Bingham Research Center has performed air quality research in the Uintah Basin. One of the center’s main goals is to provide the local oil and gas industry and government with detailed information on their impacts on air quality, and give cost-effective recommendations to help meet federal regulations.

According to Lyman, there are two essential reasons the Uintah Basin needs good air quality. “First, poor air quality impacts our health negatively. Clean air means good health. Second, our economy takes a hit from strict regulations implemented because of poor air quality. The key is finding solutions that create good air quality and the continuation of a robust economy. Our team is dedicated to making this happen simultaneously.”

The Bingham Research Center performs research on Uintah Basin’s air quality by deploying an array of high-precision equipment that measures ozone, reactive nitrogen compounds, and other air quality and meteorological parameters. The research provides a wealth of information to help local industries navigate this complex issue efficiently and effectively. 

Aside from air quality, the center’s researchers and scientists specialize in energy and environmental chemistry. Visit for more information on current research projects or to connect with the team. 

Contact: Dana Rhoades, 435-722-1788

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