Back in the ozone again

January 11, 2014

air quality, Colorado

This photo was taken in the Grand Valley on Jan. 7, 2013, during a cold air inversion in which pollutants become trapped when a warmer air mass moves over cooler air. [Photo courtesy: Colo. Dept. of Public Health and Environment Air Pollution Control Division]

This photo was taken in the Grand Valley on Jan. 7, 2013, during a cold air inversion in which pollutants become trapped when a warmer air mass moves over cooler air. [Photo courtesy: Colo. Dept. of Public Health and Environment Air Pollution Control Division]

While the rest of the world looks forward to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in February, we here in Colorado look forward to a different kind of games. The ozone games — aka CAQCC Oil & Gas Rulemaking Efforts

Next month, February 19-21, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (CAQCC) will hold hearings on proposed new air quality rules that are targeted to reduce methane emissions in oil and gas operations. If approved, Colorado would be the first state to limit greenhouse gas pollution from the oil & gas industry. Considering the all-too-frequent air inversions we’ve endured for the past couple months – from Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction – public interest and anticipation are mounting. In preparation for the hearings, county governments plus citizen, environmental, and industry groups filed statements with the commission this week.

Industry groups were the first out of the gate on Wednesday with their statement griping about the cost.

Gas rules to be costly, industry says [FREE to nonsubscribers]
State low-balled price tag on regulations, groups say

… The Colorado Petroleum Association and the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) raise the issue in a joint statement submitted in advance of the state Air Quality Control Commission’s upcoming hearing on the proposal.

The groups’ own estimate, based on an economic impact analysis by a consultant, is that leak detection and repair requirements for well production facilities and compressor stations would cost $128.6 million a year, compared to less than $14 million under the Air Pollution Control Division’s own estimate. Storage tank emission rules would cost $63.3 million for compliance, they say, whereas the state estimates a $20.8 million cost …

Kristin Winn pretty much nailed it in the comments by saying, “If the oil and gas industry’s own estimate [is millions of dollars higher than the APCD’s estimate] then the amount of leaking going on is significant and needs to be regulated. So by their own admission, the problem is bigger than what the state estimates. Why are they reluctant to fix a problem they have created?”

You see, therein lies the crux of the matter. While the industry acknowledges the problem, they don’t see it as their responsibility.

The two industry groups said in a news release Tuesday that they support many aspects of the proposal. But they also questioned several aspects of it, including the cost and whether the state can regulate greenhouse gas emissions for one industry while exempting other industries that also generate such emissions.

In her comment Claudette Konola points out the overall health and productivity costs of bad air and asked, “When did profit of one industry take precedent over the health of a community?”

In addition there is a significant cost to the industry in the health and productivity of its own workforce who are exposed to higher concentrations of chemical emissions on a daily basis.

Having just watched Down Deep, the WPX Energy infomercial, I noticed quite a contrast between the WPX approach of “we spare no cost to do it right because we’re you’re friends and neighbors” and the tactics of the industry groups who represent them.

So what do the citizen and environmental groups have to say about all this?

Coalition wants stricter air-quality rules near homes, schools

PARACHUTE — A coalition of Colorado citizen groups, including the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, seeks greater air quality protections related to oil and gas operations that are located within one-quarter mile of homes and schools.

Attorney Matt Sura filed the statement on behalf of the Western Colorado Congress, Citizens for Clean Air, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, Weld Air and Water, the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley, and the Paonia-based Western Slope Conservation Center.

Included in the groups’ statement:

* “Colorado routinely allows oil and gas wells and production facilities near homes and schools. Given this practice, it is incumbent … to require that those facilities closest to homes and schools employ the most protective best management practices and technologies to increase public health and safety.”

* “The draft regulations fail to address the most pressing concern for the families living closest to the oil and gas development: toxic releases and their potential to harm the health of nearby residents.”

“What we’re asking is that whenever these operations take place within a quarter mile of homes or any gathering places for people, the rules need to be stronger and more care taken to protect people,” said Bob Arrington, spokesman for the GVCA.

Among the stepped-up protections sought are more frequent inspections, a quicker response time whenever a leak is detected, increased monitoring following a leak, and stricter standards for volatile organic compound emissions.

Also included in the groups’ statement:

* “Although water contamination receives a lot of media attention, the primary health risk associated with living near oil and gas development is exposure to toxic fumes and localized air pollution.”

* “Even when industry is employing best available technologies, some air pollution is unavoidable and, according to recent health studies, can result in increasing the risk to residents’ health.”

The groups also point to peer-reviewed health studies showing that high levels of cancer-causing benzene have been found to travel as far as one-half mile from oil and gas operations during the “flow-back” stage of gas well completion.

The groups are urging the commission to require any oil and gas facility within a quarter-mile of buildings or outdoor activity areas to limit VOCs to two tons per year, undergo more frequent inspections, and be required to make faster repairs in the case of major leaks.

And how did the Garfield County commissioners weigh in on air quality? Certainly they want to protect public health.  They won’t stick their heads in the brown snow.

Meanwhile, Garfield County commissioners, in their letter to the commission, urge caution when it comes to applying the same standards for ozone constituents statewide.

“Garfield County recommends that the Air Quality Control Commission thoroughly evaluate the proposed regulatory changes to the control of ozone precursor emissions for unintended consequences,” the county’s letter states.

The commission should also carefully weigh the costs and benefits of imposing stricter standards, the county argues.

Kirby Wynn, Garfield County oil and gas liaison, said other counties have made the same argument in their formal statements to the commission.

“Others are questioning whether it makes sense on the Western Slope to have the same rules for ozone precursors as the Front Range,” Wynn said.

“It’s not that Garfield County thinks our rules shouldn’t be as good or as stringent when it comes to ozone prevention, but it should be based on need,” he said. “And we don’t have an ozone problem here in Garfield County.”

Is that so, Kirby? We don’t have an ozone problem in Garfield County. Then explain this chart created by Bob Arrington based on data he obtained from the Colorado Pollution Control Division. Click here for updated bar graph of 2011 data.

This spread gives the tons/year (tpy) of pollutants discharged by O&G by particular VOCs. Garfield led the herd for 2011.

This spread gives the tons/year (tpy) of pollutants discharged by O&G by particular VOCs. Garfield led the herd for 2011. Data source: CO Air Pollution Control Division [Click on the image  for a larger view]

No matter how cynical I’ve become it is still disheartening to know that those four men – John Martin, Tom Jankovsky, Mike Samson, and Kirby Wynn – are so cavalier when it comes to public health. It’s like Bob Arrington said in the PI article: “The county should be thinking in terms of putting even more air monitoring stations out there than they have now.”

But take heart. With companies like Patagonia and Aspen SkiCo joining the chorus to demand stricter air quality standards perhaps it will come down to a clash of the Titans — Colorado homegrown industries vs the oil & gas industry.

Aspen Skiing Co. workers back gas drilling rules

More info here:

Air quality: links and info

CAQCC Oil & Gas Rulemaking Efforts

Send your message today. Tell the Air Quality Control Commission that our families and communities must be protected from dangerous and dirty fracking.

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