Sources of Formaldehyde in U.S. Oil and Gas Production Regions

Barbara Dix*, Meng Li, Esther Roosenbrand, Colby Francoeur, Steven S. Brown, Jessica B. Gilman, Thomas F. Hanisco, J. Pepijn Veefkind, Pieternel F. Levelt, More Authors

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


We analyzed observational and model data to study the sources of formaldehyde over oil and gas production regions and to investigate how these observations may be used to constrain oil and gas volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. The analysis of aircraft and satellite data consistently found that formaldehyde over oil and gas production regions during spring and summer is mostly formed by the photooxidation of precursor VOCs. Formaldehyde columns over the Permian Basin, one of the largest oil- and gas-producing regions in the United States, are correlated with the production locations. Formaldehyde simulations by the atmospheric chemistry and transport model WRF-Chem, which included oil and gas NOx and VOC emissions from the fuel-based oil and gas inventory, were in very good agreement with TROPOMI satellite measurements. Sensitivity studies illustrated that VOCs released from oil and gas activities are important precursors to formaldehyde, but other sources of VOCs contribute as well and that the formation of secondary formaldehyde is highly sensitive to NOx. We also investigated the ability of the chemical mechanism used in WRF-Chem to represent formaldehyde formation from oil and gas hydrocarbons by comparing against the Master Chemical Mechanism. Further, our work provides estimates of primary formaldehyde emissions from oil and gas production activities, with per basin averages ranging from 0.07 to 2.2 kg h-1 in 2018. A separate estimate for natural gas flaring found that flaring emissions could contribute 5 to 12% to the total primary formaldehyde emissions for the Permian Basin in 2018.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2444-2457
Number of pages14
JournalACS Earth and Space Chemistry
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project
Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • air quality
  • emissions
  • formaldehyde
  • NOx
  • oil and gas
  • VOCs


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