Tell AQCC we all deserve clean air

August 24, 2017

brown cloud, public health

Denver’s brown cloud, December 2014 [Source: CBS]

A decade of nonattainment

Colorado’s North Front Range and the Denver metro area have been out of compliance with the previous federal ozone standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) since 2007. State data shows that between 2008 and 2015, the number of active wells nearly doubled to over 27,000 in central Colorado’s Wattenberg gas field.

On October 1, 2015, the EPA strengthened the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone to 70 ppb based on scientific evidence that ozone negatively impacts public health. Each state is required to develop a State Implementation Plan (SIP) for controlling air pollution.

Colorado democrats pushed back with Governor Hickenlooper saying, “It would be a great idea if they suspended the standard.” State Sen. Cheri Jahn (D) argued that the EPA is “setting us up to fail.” In a prepared statement, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D) called on the EPA to make the ozone rules “workable in Colorado by considering ways to account for the sources of ozone that do not originate in the state.”

The EPA was not impressed with their whining and in May 2016, published a final determination requiring the Denver Metro North Front Range (DMNFR) area be in attainment of the NAAQS by July 20, 2018.

The rest of last year was taken up with revisions to the SIP and the EPA’s finalization of specific guidelines to address pollution from oil & gas operations. The state’s final SIP is due October 2018.

In the process of revising the SIP, the Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) proposed several revisions to Regulation Number 7. In a nutshell, the APCD is recommending that requirements in the state’s 2014 oil & gas regulations to control methane emissions be revised to meet EPA recommendations to control ozone pollution and then incorporated into the SIP.

Currently the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) is considering those proposed revisions which include emissions control and monitoring for storage vessels, compressors, pneumatic controllers and pumps, equipment leaks at natural gas processing plants, and fugitive emissions.

Click here to access Regulation Number 7 Rulemaking Hearing documents

West Slope pushes back

Due to the consistent nonattainment status along the Front Range, the proposed rule changes were originally supposed to apply only to that area. Though according to Michael Silverstein, administrator for the Air Quality Control Commission, the nine AQCC members “specifically requested that public notice be issued that it will consider possible implementation of new statewide rules,” as reported in the Daily Sentinel.

Silverstein said there’s always been an assumption that air quality doesn’t follow political boundaries such as county lines.

“All of Colorado contributes to each other’s air quality problems,” he said.

That’s especially the case when it comes to ozone, a regional pollutant derived from a number of different compounds, he said.

He said another part of the thinking is that new rules should provide a level playing field to the industry across the state and that all Coloradans should get the same protection from emissions.

To most reasonable people this might seem like a no-brainer. After all when the EPA lowered the ozone standard to 70 ppb they set up a State Implementation Program, not a regional implementation program. Therefore it seems reasonable to assume that any revisions to Regulation Number 7 should apply statewide. But these are not reasonable times. The oil & gas industry and county governments are not made up of reasonable people.

From the Daily Sentinel:

… The West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association [WSCOGA] and Garfield, Mesa and Rio Blanco counties all have decided to request party status in the rulemaking process. That process likely will end up including debate over whether it would be fair to require companies operating in areas with lower ozone levels to have to be subject to the same regulations as those on the Front Range.

“We could end up with much more stringent ozone regulations over here when we’re meeting all our (ozone) standards at this time,” Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said this week before he and fellow Garfield commissioners decided to participate in the rulemaking process …

Apparently their argument is that air quality has improved in Garfield County over the past two years so we don’t need no stinking rules. Reminds me of the Bert and Ernie sketch where it’s raining and the window is stuck open and the rain is getting in. The rain stops. The sun shines so Bert tells Ernie to fix the window. And Ernie says, “Why fix it now, Bert? If it’s not raining nothing’s getting wet so there’s no reason to fix it now, Bert.”

Here’s the deal. The only reason air quality has improved in Garfield County is because oil & gas production in the Piceance Basin has declined drastically in the past two years, from a high of 20 rigs in 2015, to 9 rigs this year. If production ramps up again and the rig count increases, so will ozone pollution. If you have any doubt just take the 2015 Garfield County FLIR tour.

Now is the time to fix the damn window.

Naturally we would expect WSCOGA to oppose efforts to reduce emissions in the gas fields. But our county commissioners, too?

Do we really want to go back to this?

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

Or this?

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]

Jeremy Nichols with WildEarth Guardians told the Daily Sentinel he thinks the rulemaking will be contentious, which he considers unfortunate.

“This industry, they’re a filthy industry, you can’t deny that. They release so much air pollution and they do need to take some responsibility here. What they spend to reduce air emissions, that’s the cost of doing business,” he said.

Back in in 2014, we had to send emails and show up at the AQCC public hearing in Denver and embarrass our county governments in order to fight for regulations on the industry to reduce methane emissions. We can’t sit this one out.

Look, it’s bad enough these rules don’t apply to gathering lines, abandoned or stripper (low-producing) wells. They don’t place any time-of-day limitations on liquids unloading. Late day unloading could greatly reduce ground level ozone formation. They don’t require continuous emissions monitoring nor do they require public access to monitoring data. And I’m sure I could find lots more to nit-pick.

Not to mention we have to fight for the rules to apply to oil & gas operations statewide. But fight on we must. We all deserve clean air.

From the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC)

Public Comment

The Commission encourages all interested persons to provide their views either orally at the hearing or in writing prior to or at the hearing. The Commission encourages that written comments be submitted by October 2, 2017, so that Commissioners have the opportunity to review the information prior to the hearing.

Electronic submissions should be emailed to:

Information should include: your name, address, phone number, email address, and the name of the group that you may be representing (if applicable).

Written submissions should be mailed to:
Colorado Air Quality Control Commission
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, EDO-AQCC-A5
Denver, Colorado 80246

Notice of Public Hearing

October 19 & 20, 2017
9:00 a.m.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Sabin Conference Room
Denver, CO 80246

Public testimony will be taken both days. An approximate time for public comment will be posted in the meeting agenda.

The Air Quality Control Commission will hold a rulemaking hearing to consider revisions to Regulation Number 7 that address Reasonably Available Control Technology requirements for each category of sources covered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Oil and Gas Control Techniques Guidelines in
Colorado’s Ozone State Implementation Plan. These proposed revisions would incorporate existing State-Only requirements into Colorado’s Ozone SIP, propose new requirements for inclusion in Colorado’s Ozone SIP, and revise and/or clarify existing SIP and State-Only provisions.

The proposed revisions are offered to address the requirements of the federal Clean Air act for areas classified as moderate non-attainment. The proposed revisions would result in hydrocarbon emissions reductions in the Denver Metro Area/North Front Range Non-attainment area necessary to make progress toward attaining the 2008 8-hour ozone NAAQS. The Commission may also consider imposing similar requirements on facilities on a state-wide basis, not just in the Denver Metro Area/North Front Range. The Commission may also make clarifying revisions and typographical, grammatical, and formatting corrections throughout Regulation Number 7. All required documents for this rulemaking can be found on the Commission website.

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