Date of Award

January 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Civil Engineering

First Advisor

Feng Xiao


Unconventional oil and gas production in North Dakota and Texas has been rising significantly since 2007 with the advances in hydraulic fracturing technology. The effects of unconventional oil and gas production on the environmental quality and public health, however, are not well understood. The goal of this study was to investigate the effects of unconventional energy production on two types of air pollutants (fine particles and ground-level ozone). We analyzed the air quality data from publicly accessible sources, focusing on two major oil producing states (North Dakota, Texas) and two control states (Minnesota and Connecticut). The specific objectives of this study were to understand 1) the effects of unconventional oil/gas production on the regional air quality; 2) the annual and seasonal variations of criteria air pollutants in these states; and 3) correlations between different air pollutants in these states.

This thesis focuses on two selected criteria air pollutants (particulate matter (PM2.5, PM10 and ground-level ozone). PM2.5 and PM10 refer to the fine particles that pass through a size-selective inlet with a 50% efficiency cut-off at 2.5 and 10 μm aerodynamic diameters, respectively. The key finding of this research is that unconventional oil/gas production activities appear not be a major contributor to the local PM and ground-level ozone. We have also observed strong seasonal variation of PM and ground-level ozone. In all the studied states, PM2.5 is high in the summer and winter but low in spring and fall season. Ground-level ozone reaches the highest in summer and the lowest in winter season due to the variation of sunlight radiation. In three relatively urbanized states (Connecticut, Texas, Minnesota), the annual mean PM2.5 and ground-level ozone decline gradually since 1999, especially in the highly-urbanized state (Connecticut), which suggests a decline in emissions from major sources of PM and ground-level ozone. In the rural state (North Dakota), on the other hand, PM2.5 and ground-level ozone remain a relatively low and stable level since 1999. Furthermore, a strong correlation between PM2.5 and PM10 was observed; no significant correlation was found between PM2.5 and ground-level ozone. Finally, in the source identification study, it is found that the annual decline in PM2.5 is strongly associated with the reduction industrial emissions but not with utility and mobile sources. These observations will significantly advance our understanding of annual and seasonal variations of PM2.5 and ground-level ozone in these states, especially the effects of non-conventional gas and oil production, which has implications on public health protection and environmental quality.