Oil and gas air quality regulations imposed

Colorado has imposed sweeping new air quality regulations on oil and natural gas development in the state.

The new rules, enacted on an 8-1 vote of the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, are the first in the nation to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

The new rules also require operators to install such new equipment as auto-igniters and special valve assemblies to control or capture potential emissions. Monthly inspections of facilities and equipment to detect and repair leaks are required as well.

The new regulations were backed —and drafted in part — with the cooperation of three of the largest oil and gas operators in the state, all of whom work primarily in the Denver-Julesberg Basin north of Denver.

The rules also were criticized, though, as unfair to small and mid-sized energy companies that could be hard-pressed to absorb the compliance costs as easily as larger corporations.

The new rules also were backed by environmental groups in the state, including the Western Colorado Congress, many of whom called for even stricter controls.

Business groups and elected officials from several, predominantly western, counties cited a blanket approach to statewide implementation and inadequate cost-benefit analysis of the new rules as the basis for their opposition to some parts of the regulations. These groups largely applauded efforts to reduce emissions, but asked for more flexibility to allow for differences in air quality and emissions profiles across the state as well as a more accurate accounting of the estimated costs of the new rules.

Officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment predicted the new rules will cost the industry around $40 million. But industry analysts have estimated costs at closer to $100 million.

Club 20 led a delegation of Western Slope residents to the public comment portion of hearings on the air quality rules in Aurora, joining the Denver South Metro Chamber of Commerce in speaking out against the scope and breadth, if not the intent, of the rules.

Bonnie Peterson, executive director of Club 20, said in a written statement, “Club 20 members from across Western Colorado recognize the importance of robust state regulations with regard to air quality and the impact of shale gas development.” But Peterson added: “A one-size-fits-all regulatory approach is often inappropriate when it comes to the diverse geographies and geology throughout the state and particularly the Western Slope.”

Christine Zeller, chairwoman of the Club 20 energy committee, also questioned the scope of the new regulations, focused as they are on methane emissions only from oil and gas operations. “Methane emissions come from a variety of sources naturally, yet are not part of the rulemaking,” Zeller said.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, whose members include many of the small and mid-sized operating companies that could face higher costs in meeting the requirements, voiced similar concerns, but said the industry will find a way to deal with the new rules.

“Oil and gas operators in Colorado strive to protect the health and safety of our communities and environment every day. After all, these are the communities where we are raising our families,” said Doug Flanders, director of policy and external affairs for COGA. “The new rules accomplish much, which we support.”

“Unfortunately, we were not successful in ensuring that the rule accommodates the differences in basins and operators, Flanders added. “Nevertheless, we are committed to working with our operators, our communities and the state to successfully and effectively implement these rules.”

Zeller said Club 20, a bipartisan organization which bases its positions on facts, had hoped that such an approach would have been adopted by all in the discussions during the rulemaking process.

“Club 20 is not like a MoveOn.Org activist group, where you can sign a petition with a push of a button. Club 20 is about deep knowledge,” she said. “Misinformation is what many highly funded environmental groups are doing to divide many communities in our state, and we need to communicate together better.”