Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper rolled out the toughest air pollution control regulations in the nation for oil and gas wells. The rules would cut overall air pollution by 92,000 tons a year — roughly equivalent to taking every car in the state off the road for a year according to Larry Wolk, Executive Director Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The proposed rules would force companies to capture 95 percent of all toxic pollutants and volatile organic compounds they emit. The goal of the new regulations is to reduce methane leaks from well heads during and after drilling to reduce greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change according to The Denver Post.
Such reductions could help bring Colorado’s Front Range back into compliance with federal air quality standards. Smog and ozone have been on the rise again. The fracking boom has reversed many of the air quality gains made over the last couple decades in Colorado’s Front Range. Colorado has one of the nation’s largest fracking industries
Colorado will be the first state to adopt rules directly limiting methane emitted by oil and gas operations. The Federal government and United Nations are working on rules to reduce leaking methane emissions because they are one of the largest contributors to global warming. Methane leaks wipe out most of the environmental benefits of burning natural gas in power plants.
“These are going to amount to the very best air quality regulations in the country,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said.
The Governor credited executives from some of the largest gas and oil producers in the state–Anadarko, Encana and Noble Energy — for compromising to help minimize environmental harm from drilling even before they know what the cost implications are.
“They understand it is a shared responsibility,” the governor said, “and they have really stepped up.”
At the announcement the Vice President or Nobel, Ted Brown, said the prescribed practices are “the right thing to do” but added that “it’s a tough rule.”
Encana’s Lem Smith added “Regulatory certainty is important to the company, and doing the right thing also is important to the company,” Reducing industry air pollution will bring a “quantifiable environmental benefit.”
He and counterparts from Anadarko and Encana said they support the proposed rules as a way to operate more safely and build public trust.
The rules would use infrared cameras at the well to immediately detect leaks to supplement regular inspections. This will allow for much quicker response and better compliance. The rules would:
- Detect leaks from tanks, pipelines, wells and other facilities using devices such as infrared cameras.
- Inspect for leaks at least once a month at large facilities and plug leaks.
- Adhere to more stringent limits on emissions from equipment near where people live and play.
- Use flare devices to burn off emissions from facilities not connected to pipelines.
Even though Colorado’s biggest producers worked with Governor Hickenlooper’s administration on the rules, the Colorado Petroleum Association was less than thrilled. Their Association’s president, Stan Dempsey, questioned the need for new rules at all. Possibly he thinks pollution and greenhouse gasses are an acceptable trade-off for the fracking boom.
Dempsey said regulation of industry air pollution might better be done through the state’s overall air pollution control program or by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). He must think COGCC would be more tolerant on air pollution and green gas emissions than the Department of Health and Environment.
The rules will be up for a vote at a hearing in February. If adopted, Colorado will be the world’s leader in reducing leaking methane.
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