Proposed new rules target methane emissions

The brown cloud covering highly populated parts of the Front Range is the visible part of air pollution, but unseen ozone is most dangerous to health. In the first photo, a clear view from the mountains looking east to the Denver Metro area. The second shot is the same view, obstructed by the brown cloud. [Photos by Robert D. Tonsing/Colorado Public News.]

The brown cloud covering highly populated parts of the Front Range is the visible part of air pollution, but unseen ozone is most dangerous to health. In the first photo, a clear view from the mountains looking east to the Denver Metro area. The second shot is the same view, obstructed by the brown cloud. [Photos by Robert D. Tonsing/Colorado Public News.]

At the state Capitol on Monday, Governor Hickenlooper announced proposed new air quality rules saying, “These are going to amount to the very best air quality regulations in the country.”

“We support this proposal because it is the right thing to do,” said Ted Brown, of Noble Energy. “Having said that though, it is a tough rule.”

The proposed regulations would cut 92,000 tons of volatile organic compounds per year from Colorado’s air – equivalent to all the VOCs emitted by every car in the state, said Larry Wolk, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. According to Wolk, methane is a common and potent greenhouse gas, but methane and other hydrocarbons can also cause breathing problems in sensitive people.

Oil & Gas Rulemaking Efforts: Regulation Numbers 3, 6, & 7

These proposed air emissions rules will be formally proposed to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission by agency staff on Thursday, November 21. Public hearings will be held in February 2014, with final regulations expected by March 1.

Dan Grossman, director of the regional chapter of the Environmental Defense Fund, praised the proposed rule. “The environmental concerns around oil and gas are real, and they impact Coloradans in a profound way,” Grossman said.

If adopted, these air regulations would also represent the strongest regulations in the nation for reducing air pollution from the oil and gas sector, with a litany of firsts as described in an EDF blog post:

  • First state to directly target methane reductions from oil and gas production. Some existing state and federal emissions rules reduce methane indirectly, for example by mandating VOC reductions, but no one as of yet has gone after methane directly.
  • First state to require Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) on all wells statewide to control equipment leaks of “fugitive” methane and VOC emissions. Colorado would also be the first to require monthly inspections for certain well sites known to be the largest emitters.
  • First state to require operators to take preventative measures to avoid venting from well maintenance activities, such as liquids unloading (the stage when active wells are cleared of water and other liquids inhibiting production).
  • First to require a statewide retrofit of all valves (also known as pneumatics) used on well sites to control routine operations. Companies would be required to change all “high-bleed” pneumatics to lower emission “low-bleed” devices. Where electricity is available at certain well sites, Colorado would also be the first to require “no-bleed” pneumatics.
  • First state to require that existing storage tanks comply with pollution limits that only apply to new tanks under federal law.

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Earthjustice Press Release

Promising Start to Colorado Air Pollution Rules But Much Work Remains
Rulemaking process must result in strong protections for public health and Colorado communities
November 18, 2013

Denver, CO — The Colorado Air Pollution Control Division today unveiled proposed revisions to the state’s air pollution rules for the oil and gas industry that would, for the first time, directly regulate the powerful greenhouse gas methane. The proposal is the start of what will be a months-long effort to address Colorado’s growing smog problem and reduce global warming pollution associated with the oil and gas industry.

“We are happy to see the state recognizing the serious public health and global warming pollution problems caused by rampant oil and gas development,” said Mike Freeman, staff attorney at Earthjustice. “This looks like a good start, but we’re still reviewing the proposal and the devil is in the details. There are a number of exceptions and loopholes that will need to be closed” …

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Proposed Colorado air pollution regs clamp down on oil, gas emissions

The rules developed over the past year by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s air quality control division would require companies to capture roughly 95 percent of the hydrocarbon pollutants they emit from oil and gas facilities. Properly operated flare devices, already in use by many companies, can achieve 98 percent capture of emissions — preventing venting into the atmosphere …

…”The beauty of this proposal is that it simultaneously would result in reduction of several different types of pollutants,” CDPHE air pollution control division director Will Allison said. “These include volatile organic compounds, methane and air toxics” …

… And, when it comes to emissions of methane — a powerful greenhouse gas blamed for global warming — the industry is largely unregulated, even though state air emissions monitoring data show oil and gas operations are a major source …

… Western Resource Advocates Lands Program Director Gary Graham said his group is pleased with the emerging rules. “This is going to help a great deal to protect the health and well-being of people in Colorado from VOCs and methane” …

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