Colorado adopts tougher air rules for oil, gas industry
By Bruce Finley The Denver Post The Denver Post
Colorado adopted tougher air pollution rules for the oil and gas industry — the first in the nation to cover methane, a gas linked to climate change. State air quality control commissioners voted 8-1 on Sunday to pass the rules with the support of leading operators Anadarko Petroleum, Noble Energy and Encana. But they did so over the protests of much of the oil and gas industry, including the powerful Colorado Oil and Gas Association and Colorado Petroleum Association trade groups. By passing rules aimed at reducing toxic emissions from oil and gas facilities, Colorado officials are trying to allow an energy boom while also protecting health and the environment. They needed to act because Front Range air already fails to meet federal health standards. The oil and gas industry is a growing source of volatile organic compounds that lead to the formation of ozone. "This is in the best interests of public health," state health Director Larry Wolk said. "Methane and hydrocarbons being significant contributors to ground ozone — and climate change — anything we can do to control that is going to improve the health of our citizens — adults and kids. We have to look to the future."
The rules — laid out in about 20 pages — require companies to detect leaks and fix them. They require companies to install devices that capture 95 percent of emissions — both volatile organic compounds and methane. "This is the toughest regulatory landscape in the country, no doubt about that," Noble vice president Ted Brown said. "But we really believe this rule is smart. It is cost-effective. It ensures that oil and gas is developed in the safest possible way for communities and the environment." Gov. John Hickenlooper had challenged companies and environment groups to collaborate after four cities voted to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process used to extract oil and gas. Hickenlooper has backed use of natural gas as a "bridge fuel" to replace coal at power plants and lead to greater reliance on renewable wind and solar energy. "Colorado is proving once again that collaboration and compromise help solve important issues facing our state," Hickenlooper said in a statement Sunday night. The new rules "will ensure Colorado has the cleanest and safest oil and gas industry in the country and help preserve jobs," Hickenlooper said, thanking companies, environment groups and state agencies for working hard together.
"All Coloradans deserve a healthy economy and a healthy environment, and we're working to ensure that
Colorado continues to have both," he said. The Environmental Defense Fund led the creation of rules, which withstood COGA and CPA challenges.
In four days of hearings, opponents argued that any new rules must not cover methane or apply statewide — but failed to persuade the nine commissioners. "These rules show we can make good progress toward realizing the climate benefits of natural gas and demonstrate that oil and gas development and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive," said Dan Grossman, EDF regional director. "The industry's social license to operate is under attack in Colorado, and the political dynamics made a strong negotiated settlement attractive," Grossman said. COGA officials declined to discuss the outcome. A statement issued by policy director Doug Flanders said that "unfortunately, we were not successful in ensuring that the rule accommodates the differences in
basins and operators. Nevertheless, we are committed to working with our operators, our communities, and the state to successfully and effectively implement these rules." Industry opponents "appreciate the thoughtful work of this commission," CPA president Stan Dempsey said. "Our members are going to evaluate these final rules."
Some residents welcomed tougher rules, which environment advocates called a breakthrough for cleaner air and a safer climate. "This helps control Colorado's smog problems and helps us address Colorado's contribution to global warming," Earthjustice attorney Mike Freeman said. "But more is going to be necessary for Colorado to meet the federal clean air standards."
Bruce Finley: 303-954-1700, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/finleybruce