ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is joining forces with New Mexico regulators and a private company to study air pollution and climate change. Officials announced the partnership with New Mexico-based Sceye Inc. on Thursday. They said they are still working on the specifics of the endeavor, how much it will cost and how it will be funded.
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The five-year study will use high-altitude blimp-like platforms positioned in the stratosphere above New Mexico to monitor air quality and emissions from the oil and gas industry and other sources.
“Until now, atmospheric science was based on a network of ground air quality monitors with some additional information we would get from airplanes and satellites. Not anymore,” said New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney.
Parking Sceye’s airships in the stratosphere — about 12 miles (19 kilometers) up — for a longer period of time will result in unprecedented environmental data that can be used to develop more accurate atmospheric maps that look at greenhouse gases, particulate matter, ground-level ozone and other pollutants and how they are transported.
Officials said they hope that leads to better solutions for regional air quality problems.
Once a memorandum of understanding is in place, the EPA and Sceye can enter into a public-private cooperative research and development agreement. That will determine how the data is shared.
EPA officials said the effort will build upon previous collaborations with NASA to help advance knowledge on the use of high-altitude measurements for monitoring emissions and concentrations on the ground.
Kenney noted that New Mexico has only seven air quality inspectors for more than 60,000 oil and gas wells in the state.
“So ensuring compliance remotely, in this case from the stratosphere, is absolutely game changing for us,” he said.
The study is expected to begin next year.
New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes said the partnership has been in the works for about a year and that aside from producing data, it marks an important investment in science as the state looks to diversify its economy.