New ozone pollution regs will not apply statewide

 YeT Without statewide air pollution regulations, the West Slope may soon be back in the brown cloud — Looking east from West Rifle on March 30, 2014 — Click to enlarge [Photo by Ema Thornton]


Updated 10/22/17 8:35 p.m.

Late Friday night, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) passed new state regulations to restrict air pollution from oil and gas development and to require increased monitoring for leaks. These regulations were a positive step forward in addressing Front Range ozone pollution but will not apply to the rest of the state. The Air Quality Control Commission has, however, authorized a two year study and stakeholder process to determine if additional state air quality restrictions should be applied statewide.

Members of Western Colorado Congress, and Mesa County-based Citizens for Clean Air, traveled to Denver on Thursday to request that proposed state air quality regulations for the oil and gas industry be applied to the entire state.

Karen Sjoberg, from Citizens for Clean Air, warned that the Grand Valley is already suffering from poor air quality on some days, and increased oil and gas development proposed for the valley will make that worse.

“Ozone levels in the Grand Valley have not reached levels that would bring an official EPA declaration of nonattainment and we would like to keep it that way. And in fact, we would like to keep ozone levels low enough to not have significant effects on human health and agricultural productivity. Substantial epidemiological research suggests that levels above 60 ppb affect both negatively. According to data collected by the CDPHE in 2016 at several sites around the Grand Valley, Mesa County experienced multiple ozone spikes of greater than 70 ppb with a high of 85.8 ppb.

In Grand Junction, there is not an upward trend in official ozone readings over the past few years, but oil and gas drilling has been down as well as economic activity more generally, and the AQCC 2014 rules have probably reduced VOC emissions that create more ozone. We should build on this success.”

Diane Miller, a retired registered nurse from Routt County urged the commissioners, “Please don’t wait until we have a problem before giving us the same protections you are considering for the Front Range. In Public Health, we call this Primary Prevention. Stop the offending problem before it starts because it is more costly in terms of economics, health and lives when you retroactively try to fix a problem rather than preventing it in the first place.”

Peggy Tibbetts, a resident of Silt, also asked that the new regulations be applied to oil and gas development in Garfield County.

“Nothing is more vital to our health and our economy than clean air,” she stated in her testimony. “While it’s of utmost importance to address ozone pollution in Denver and the Front Range, we all deserve to breathe clean air. Whether it’s fugitive emissions from the Uintah Basin in Utah, or the San Juan Basin in the Four Corners region, or our own Piceance Basin, we continue to be plagued with ozone pollution in Western Colorado.”

Tibbetts also mentioned that the state has been allowing oil and gas development next to homes on the Western Slope, increased monitoring for leaks is an important safety precaution.

“In Battlement Mesa, a proposed well pad will be located less than 500 feet from seven homes and less than 1,000 feet from 51 homes,” Tibbetts testified. “The 5,000 residents in Battlement Mesa deserve the same air quality protections as the residents from Erie to Greeley.”

Western Colorado Congress Director Emily Hornback was concerned that local elected officials, including Mesa County and Garfield County commissioners, went on record to oppose additional air quality protections on the Western Slope.

“Western Slope residents, like those on the Front Range, appreciate Colorado blue skies and clean air. Waiting for our air quality to exceed federal air pollution standards before acting to reduce leaks is not in the interest of the Western Slope.”

From Peggy Tibbetts:

COGA’s Dan Haley stretched the boundaries of reason and good judgment with his comment.

Colorado health officials mull tougher rule for oil and gas facilities to cut smog
Air Quality Control Commission poised to vote on controls industry supports that would not apply statewide

… Colorado Oil and Gas Association president Dan Haley told the eight commissioners present that the industry “strongly encourages” them to adopt the rules with minor adjustments and only apply them to Front Range facilities.

“Industry worked hard, along with other stakeholders, to find a compromise,” Haley told The Denver Post. However, he added, “more inspections doesn’t equate to cost-effective emissions reductions. In fact, additional inspections could actually increase emissions as we drive more to these sites and find fewer and fewer leaks”

He must have been joking, right?

I am stunned and disappointed that the AQCC chose to place a higher priority on air quality for residents in the Denver Metro and Front Range area than anywhere else in the state. Our West Slope delegation (Emily Hornback, Karen Sjoberg, Charlie Post, Kathy Slaughter, Steve Silveira, Diane Miller, Matt Sura, Peggy Tibbetts) made news as we lobbied hard in favor of regulating emissions on oil & gas operations as a statewide priority. The last thing we need is a two-year study. We already know how bad our air quality can get. But all it takes is for the oil & gas industry to whine about the costs and the state bows to their demands. Ursa’s accelerated drilling plans in Battlement Mesa increases emissions and puts everyone’s health at risk.

Air pollution doesn’t respect boundaries. Those commissioners are well aware of that. And that’s what makes this decision so blatantly in favor of the industry. Even Mesa and Garfield County commissioners testified against protecting public health and promoted saving the industry money. Once again the state feeds the growing distrust its citizens have of their local and state governments.

Thanks to all Coloradans from Grand Junction to Greeley who took precious time out of their busy lives to speak up for clean air. Even though we didn’t win this round for the entire state, we will never back down from our efforts to breathe clean air.

Comments from AQCC Public Hearing — October 19, 2017

Karen Sjoberg, Chairperson, Citizens for Clean Air

Kathy Slaughter

Peggy Tibbetts


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