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Research Topics

The goal of AWG is to better integrate science into decisions about unconventional oil and gas development, leading to more sustainable practices for oil and gas development as we progress toward a future of renewable energy.

How is oil and gas effecting air quality and climate change? 

The AWG Air Quality team, in partnership with other national-scale efforts, have made advances in monitoring current emissions from oil and gas facilities to the atmosphere.  AWG studies indicate previous estimates of methane emissions may have been as much as 3 times too low (Petron et al. 2014). The team is also forecasting future emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants by power generation for a range of future energy scenarios. These results are being used as the basis for more effective controls on greenhouse gas emissions by oil and gas facilities (McLeod 2014).

What is in hydraulic fracturing fluid?

AWG’s integrative water research has improved our understanding of the compounds of greatest concern in hydraulic fracturing fluids (Rogers et al. 2015, read the Press Release here). Of  ~650 contaminants screened, 15 may be of concern as groundwater contaminants based on their toxicity, mobility, persistence and frequency of use.

Where is methane in groundwater coming from and what is the risk of an oil and gas well contaminating our water? 

AWG has looked into conditions leading to methane found in water wells in oil and gas basins (Sherwood et al. 2016). AWG research indicates that microbes, rather than high-volume hydraulic fracturing, are the primary source of dissolved methane in the Denver Basin’s groundwater. The study did find some methane in wells that could be directly linked to oil- and gas-bearing formations, at an occurrence rate of about two cases per year. AWG research has updated models for migration of fracking fluid underground, indicating that certain conditions may restrict migration more than previously believed (Birdsell 2015).

What is changing in the politics of oil and gas development? 

The AWG team of social scientists have examined the knowledge and opinions of “policy actors” who play a role in oil and gas issues and published reports on the politics of oil and gas development. AWG created a database of state regulations governing oil and gas development, and assembled a repository of memoranda of understanding regarding oil and gas development practices between Colorado municipalities and oil and gas operators (see Public Resources). The results of these efforts are increasing awareness of alternative approaches to dealing with the conflict of local versus state control of oil and gas development.

Reliable information on oil and gas requires good data

We have highlighted the need for accessible, standardized data sources by demonstrating the use of publicly-available data to address important questions around the effects of oil and gas development (for example, Oikonomou et al. 2016McKenzie et al. 2016). AWG convened a workshop addressing steps for improving collection of and access to oil and gas development data. The forum has spurred collaboration between federal and state agencies and industry groups to improved data availability and accessibility.

Air Quality

What are the impacts of emissions from oil and gas operations on public health and climate change, and are there ways we can reduce those impacts? This team is using various methods to measure current methane, ozone precursors, and ozone concentrations in oil and gas basins and modeling future energy pathways for reducing emissions.

Water Quality

Chemists on this team are investigating ground water and surface water quality in oil and gas basins in Colorado. In addition to understanding the quality of the water supply, the team is studying the chemical make-up of wastewater generated by hydraulic fracturing.

Water Use

How much water is being used for hydraulic fracturing and where is that water coming from? This team is working to answer this question and also evaluate the overall risk that hydraulic fracturing poses to drinking water aquifers due to potential migration of methane and fracturing fluids underground.

Water Treatment

What happens to the wastewater produced by the process of hydraulic fracturing? Team members are working to develop sustainable techniques for on-site treatment of wastewater that could decrease the need for trucking and injecting wastewater into deep wells, and increase the feasibility of water re-use.

Health Effects

This team is working to assess health risks associated with oil and gas extraction by examining issues ranging from truck traffic to air pollution. Researchers on the team are working with the air and water quality teams to collect accurate data to estimate potential environmental impacts to public health.

Practices and Regulations

How do state laws and regulations regarding oil and gas development in the Rocky Mountain region vary? The team has developed a publicly available database of statutes and regulations in the region for policy makers, local governments, health researchers, environmental and public health advocates, and concerned citizens.

Social-Economic Systems

How are policy decisions about oil and gas development made, and how do economic and social factors influence these decisions? This team of policy experts, economists, and decision analysts helps the AirWaterGas network create policy-relevant products and integrate social science with scientific findings.

Data Management

An essential goal of the AirWaterGas network is to create a usable, accessible database for public use with new and existing data on oil and gas production, air quality, and water quality in areas of oil and gas development.

Oil and Gas Infrastructure

This team of engineers provides expertise to our network on oil and gas development, extraction, and related infrastructure.

Analytical Laboratory and Embedded Technology

AirWaterGas researchers are developing new technologies for environmental monitoring including a Mobile Methane Measurement Lab, UPOD Mobile Air Quality Monitors, and Domestic in-line Water Quality Monitors.

Education and Outreach

The AirWaterGas Education and Outreach team strives to create resources and programs that foster evidence-based public discussion and deeper understanding of oil and gas development. Visit our public resources page to learn about our Community Small Grant program, middle and high school curricula, and more.