Garfield County FLIR Tour: Ursa’s low NOx burners

FLIR still images 3-18-15

What are low NOx burners?

According to the EPA’s AP-42 “Compilation of Air Pollutant Emission Factors”: “Low NOx burners reduce NOx by accomplishing the combustion process in stages. Staging partially delays the combustion process, resulting in a cooler flame which suppresses thermal NOx formation.”

Here is Bob Arrington’s primer on low NOx burners:

“Low NOx burners are burners designed to have a low ppm of NOx release, NOx meaning nitrogen oxides (O, O2, O3 where x is number of oxygen atoms). NOx combines with hydrocarbons in sunlight to make ozone. Factors that can cause NOx are high burn temperatures and abundance of air (like 79 nitrogen molecules and 21 oxygen molecules) for the burn. So they stage and control fuel feed to burn, or the amount of air feed, or both. The idea is to control burn and minimize NOx release. When they talk of burning hydrocarbons, like Zink (a Koch company), they call a burner low NOx at maybe 12-15 ppm, wherein space heaters and water tanks may be 3 ppm for low NOx. Advertising is everything.

“But using low NOx for oil & gas is an attempt to reduce their contribution to later ozone or ‘acid’ rains (HxNOx when combined with rain). What is important is manufacturers often claim over 98% burn efficiency – ‘WE burned 98 out of 100 of what we put in.’ But this is not true as FLIR’s are showing (some literature says field use may be as low as 66% efficiency). Burning does not destroy some compounds; it combines them to new oxides. So sulfur dioxide is formed, NOx, CO, CO2, water vapor, solids are released as soot, mercury and metal oxides.”

As you will see in these next two videos, Bob is right. The FLIR GF 320 exposes the inefficiency of the low NOx burners.

The low NOx burner shown in this video is on Ursa’s Monument Ridge well pad, which is located in the Battlement Mesa subdivision across the road from a densely populated residential area. As you see, the air flow carries the emissions toward the homes.


The low NOx burner in this video is on Ursa’s well pad which is located at the gravel pit on CR 346, between Silt and Rifle. In the Battlement Mesa video, Earthworks thermographer Pete Dronkers was unable to get close enough to film the intensity of the hydrocarbon emissions. Here is a close-up view of a low NOx burner where you can see the volume of hydrocarbon emissions — the same chemical soup that’s billowing directly toward those homes in Battlement Mesa.


earthworks_logoOur friends at Earthworks purchased a state-of-the-art FLIR Gasfinder camera (Model GF 320). FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed) cameras are used by the oil & gas industry and government regulators to detect leaks of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) specifically because the FLIR has proven highly effective in the detection of hydrocarbon compounds.

Independent laboratory (third party) testing confirms that the FLIR Gasfinder Model GF 320 camera can see the following gases at the minimum detected leak rate (MDLR):

  • 1-Pentene – 5.6g/hr
  • Benzene – 3.5g/hr
  • Butane -0.4g/hr
  • Ethane – 0.6g/hr
  • Ethanol – 0.7g/hr
  • Ethylbenzene – 1.5g/hr
  • Ethylene – 4.4g/hr
  • Heptane – 1.8g/hr
  • Hexane – 1.7g/hr
  • Isoprene – 8.1g/hr
  • MEK – 3.5g/hr
  • Methane – 0.8g/hr
  • Methanol – 3.8g/hr
  • MIBK – 2.1g/hr
  • Octane – 1.2g/hr
  • Pentane – 3.0g/hr
  • Propane – 0.4g/hr
  • Propylene – 2.9g/hr
  • SF6 (Sulfur Hexaflouride) – 0.026g/hr
  • Toluene – 3.8g/hr
  • Xylene – 1.9g/hr

Infrared Training Center (ITC) certified thermographer Pete Dronkers (Earthworks Southwest Circuit Rider) brought the FLIR over to western Garfield County for a day in a gas patch. On March 7, Dronkers filmed several oil & gas sites and facilities from Garfield Creek to Silt to Rifle to Battlement Mesa/Parachute.

Declining oil & gas prices have led to a slowdown in drilling new wells, and some regional cutbacks. As a result, COGCC Director Matt Lepore and the oil & gas industry want to back off any new regulations because they cost money. Of course we would like the state to enforce the regulations already in place — especially the new air quality regulations. But they would like us all to calm down because the impacts will be magically reduced. All of the sites and facilities filmed in western Garfield County are permanent and are not affected by the slowdown in drilling. They operate 24/7. Each site and facility is identified in the videos.

At the recent Ursa community meeting in Silt, Landman Jeff Powers said, “You won’t be seeing Ursa in 2015.”

In a series of ten videos, we show you what you can’t possibly see with the naked eye. What the state and the industry don’t want you to see — the pollution the oil and gas industry is currently dumping into our air-sheds.

This series is brought to you by Earthworks and From the Styx. Please share these videos. And consider a tax deductible donation to Earthworks. Thank you!

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