Energy outlook bright, but regulations will play a role
It’s anybody’s guess as to what 2011 holds for the energy industry in Colorado, but one constant remains: the state is rich in natural resources and can benefit from an upswing in demand for energy whether it’s produced by coal, natural gas, shale oil, uranium, wind or sunlight.
Coal produces most of the electricity generated in the U.S. Meanwhile, 80 percent of the recoverable uranium lies in Colorado and wind development has taken off as an industry in Eastern Colorado, said D.J. Law, an environmental engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency Region 8. Law addressed an audience at an energy briefing hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Piceance Basin northeast of Grand Junction is rich in natural gas and also boasts one of the largest deposits of oil shale.
“As long as oil prices still go up, oil shale and tar sands will continue to be attractive,” Law said.
The viability of various energy sources depends in part on government oversight and the cost of regulation. Meanwhile, the debate continues over whether curtailing man-made emissions can have a significant effect on global temperatures and if the government should be concerned about controlling emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and other gases. “Is it political or based on science?” retiree Ken Robar asked of proposed restrictions on so-called greenhouse gas emissions.
While cap and trade legislation failed to pass through Congress, Colorado and other states have implemented stricter pollution standards in part out of fear the EPA could impose tougher mandates.
“Probably whatever method you use there will be some debate,” said Gordon Pierce, program manager for the technical services program of the air pollution control division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Pierce joined Law at the chamber briefing.
Regulations for allowable levels of pollutants are listed for both size and density of the particulates. The EPA flags particulates that are 10 micrometers or smaller. The largest ones are about seven times smaller than the width of a human hair. According to the EPA, small particulates create the largest concern because they can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause health problems. Allowable densities of the particulates can range from 15 micrograms to150 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
The EPA is considering even stricter standards and plans to release information early in 2011. A public comment period will follow. The status of the proposed revisions and a place for public comment are available on the EPA website at www.epa.gov.
When considering regulatory changes, the EPA is directed to disregard the cost of compliance and focus only on health issues.
People attending the chamber briefing asked whether the EPA will measure pollutants over a period of time and during various weather conditions or only during short periods of time.
“If it’s an eight-hour measurement, can it depend on whether there’s an inversion or a windy, sunny day?” asked Carter Mathies of Clover Energy Services.
Law said the EPA computes a “rolling average” including portions of several days to create an eight-hour time frame. The eight-hour measurement changes over time because new hours replace hours previously included in the average. Air monitors are placed in various locations to detect differences in air quality. Such differences will require different solutions, he said. “The solutions in Denver won’t be the same as the solutions elsewhere,” he said.
Air pollution monitors are located in places as varied as densely populated Salt Lake City in Northeast Utah and sparsely populated Canyonlands National Park in Southeastern Utah. Detection of pollutants isn’t always tied to the place where the monitor sits. For example, pollution in the Canyonlands could originate in California because weather patterns typically move from west to east.
Such factors call for regional solutions to air pollution, Law and Pierce said.
A frustration for those involved in the process, from businesses to government regulators, is that the monitoring process doesn’t accurately identify the source of emissions. “Can it tell you which pollutants are natural and which are man-made?” asked Don Pettygrove, owner of DGP Consulting Engineers in Mesa County.
“No,” Pierce said. “Not without further analysis.”
One energy regulation oddity that particularly affects Colorado is the separation of regulations for oil and natural gas deposits located in different geographical areas. “There’s currently no national policy that says sources must be aggregated,” Law said. Each is considered on a case-by-case basis.
Such a scenario forces an energy company to apply for a permit for each geographical area and for each kind of energy source. The process adds to the cost of extracting gas or oil and thus affects consumer prices and company profitability.
Another source of confusion is that while the federal government issues standards, individual states issue the permits that allow companies to emit certain levels of greenhouse gases.
Such issues will be part of the debate as the EPA continues to refine regulations while business owners and the general public continue to provide their input.