We live inside this brown cloud

Last week a friend asked, “So whatever happened with those new air quality regs?”

In February, we celebrated our state’s adoption of a strict plan that includes the nation’s first statewide limit on emissions of methane (the chief component of natural gas). When methane is released into the atmosphere it becomes a potent ozone-generating, greenhouse gas.

According to the CDPHE Fact Sheet, the revisions to the air quality regulations are “estimated to reduce VOC emissions by approximately 93,500 tons per year and methane/ethane emissions by approximately 65,000 tons per year.” The regulations establish a comprehensive LDAR (leak detection and repair) program for oil and gas facilities to cut down on fugitive VOC emissions from storage tanks, glycol dehydrators, and well pad operations.

Go to the CDPHE’s Oil & Gas Rulemaking page to find links to the Unofficial Draft and the Fact Sheet.

Governor Hickenlooper’s office released these highlights of the new air quality regulations:

  • The most comprehensive leak detection and repair program for oil and gas facilities in the country.
  • Regulation of a range of hydrocarbon emissions that can contribute to harmful ozone formation as well as climate change. The rules include first-in-the-nation provisions to reduce methane emissions.
  • Implementation of the rules will reduce more than 92,000 tons per year of volatile organic compound emissions. VOC emissions contribute to ground level ozone that has adverse impacts upon public health and environment, including increased asthma and other respiratory ailments.
  • Implementation of the rules also will reduce of more than 60,000 tons per year of methane emissions.
  • Expanded control and inspection requirements for storage, including a first-in-the-nation standard to ensure emissions from tanks are captured and routed to the required control devices.
  • Expands ozone non-attainment area requirements for auto-igniters and low bleed pneumatics to the rest of the state.
  • Require no-bleed (zero emission) pneumatics where electricity is available (in lieu of using gas to actuate pneumatic).
  • Require gas stream at well production facilities either be connected to a pipeline or routed to a control device from the date of first production.
  • Require more stringent control requirements for glycol dehydrators.
  • Require use of best management practices to minimize the need for – and emissions from – well maintenance.
  • Many operators will use infrared (IR) cameras, which allow people to see emissions that otherwise would be invisible to the naked eye. Colorado obtained IR cameras for the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources inspectors last year. They are an effective tool in identifying leaking equipment and reducing pollution.
  • Comprehensive recordkeeping and reporting requirements to help ensure transparent and accurate information.
  • Adoption of federal oil and gas standards that complement the state-specific rules.

There’s just one small catch. Most of the new requirements do not go into effect until May 1, 2014. Gas compressor stations don’t even need to have leakage tightened up or inspected until January 1, 2015. If you read the Fact Sheet (only 4 pages) you’ll see the LDAR is kind of a phase-in program. Even so, within five years we should see improvement in our air quality statewide.

Meanwhile we’re still living in a brown cloud. On Sunday morning (3/30/14) between 10:00 and 10:30 a.m. my daughter Ema was traveling east on I-70 west of Rifle. She took photos of our air pollution. When she saw it in the distance at first she wondered if there was a wildfire.

Sunday morning 3/30/14 -- Looking east from West Rifle -- Click to enlarge [Photo by Ema Tibbetts]

Sunday morning 3/30/14 — Looking east from West Rifle — Click to enlarge [Photo by Ema Tibbetts]

Then she realized, nope this is what home looks like. We live inside this brown cloud.

Sunday morning 3/30/14 -- Looking east from West Rifle -- Click to enlarge [Photo by Ema Tibbetts]

Sunday morning 3/30/14 — Looking east from West Rifle — Click to enlarge [Photo by Ema Tibbetts]

Just as there are climate change deniers I know there are those who will say I’m exaggerating. I’m ridiculous. I’m crying fire in a crowded theater. I’m preaching to the choir. I’m certainly not allowing factual information to get in the way of a good story.

And I understand exactly how they feel. They’re scared. I am, too. Click on the photos to enlarge. It totally freaks me out to think I live inside that brown cloud. If only I could ignore it or deny it like so many people who live here do. But my eyes can’t see it any other way.

At this point, WHO is doing this to us is far less important than WHAT this is doing to us. If people want to believe the brown cloud is caused by woodburner smoke and freeway exhaust, go right ahead. But at the very least let us agree this is an unhealthy environment for human beings.

Further reading –

Air Pollution Kills 7 Million People Every Year, World Health Organization Report Finds

Groundbreaking UN Report Warns Climate Change a Threat to Global Security and Mankind


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One Comment on “We live inside this brown cloud”

  1. Joe hultqiist Says:

    I’m sure not one farmer was burning ditches that day. Oh you live in a cloud some cloud not on this planet

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