Proposed rules for air pollution released today would make Colorado the first state to directly regulate detection and reduction of methane emissions associated with oil and gas drilling and further Colorado's efforts as a national leader in environmental-friendly energy production.
The rules, which cover the lifecycle of oil and gas development (from drilling to production to maintenance), reflect a collaborative effort by the Environmental Defense Fund and Noble Energy, Encana and Anadarko oil and gas companies as part of the Air Quality Control Division's stakeholder process.
The plan, with Gov. John Hickenlooper's support and active engagement, constitutes the division's official proposed rules and will now go before the state Air Quality Control Commission, which will meet Thursday, Nov. 21, and will be asked to set a February 2014 public hearing on the rules.
"These proposed rules provide common sense measures to help ensure Colorado has the cleanest and safest oil and gas industry in the country," Hickenlooper said. "The rules will help Colorado prepare for anticipated growth in energy development, while protecting public health and the environment. They represent a significant step forward in addressing a wider range of emissions that before now have not been directly regulated. We welcome the proposed rules and are grateful all of the interested parties worked together."
The comprehensive set of rules were crafted after an extensive process in which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) sought input from diverse stakeholders across Colorado. The rules will now be subject to further input as the Air Quality Control Commission considers them under CDPHE's formal rulemaking process.
"Tackling smog and climate pollution from the oil and gas sector is a critical part of making sure communities are protected and that the lower carbon advantage of natural gas doesn't simply leak away," said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. "If this package is adopted, Coloradans will breathe easier, knowing they have the best rules in the country for controlling air pollution from oil and gas activities."
Anadarko, Encana and Noble jointly stated: "As citizens of Colorado, we all want clean air, and we support this joint proposal initiated by Gov. Hickenlooper. This collaboration is a good model for developing effective regulations and activities to monitor, control and reduce methane leaks and VOCs. The process and increased accountability established by the proposal will provide transparency and build public trust. We remain committed to continuously improving industry practices and protecting our communities through responsible energy development."
The rules will benefit Colorado's public health, environment and economy by increasing the capture and use of clean burning natural gas. Highlights of the rules include:
A first-in-the-nation requirement for leak detection from tanks, pipelines, and other drilling and production processes, using instruments such as infrared cameras that can detect leaks that otherwise may not be discovered using other more conventional means.
Instrument-based monthly inspections on large sources of emissions.
An aggressive timeline for repair of leaks found using either these instrument-based methods or leaks found through sight, smell or sound.
Leak detection and repair of storage tanks, at well-site production facilities and at compressor stations.
Requirements for detection and repair of leaks of a wide variety of hydrocarbons, including VOCs and methane, another first in the country.
Expanding provisions statewide for reducing emissions of pollutants that today apply only in nonattainment areas, so anyone living near a well site would benefit.
New, more stringent limits on emissions from dehydrator units located near where people live and play.
"Colorado is fortunate to have a governor who is invested in protecting the state's environment and who brought parties together to advance the draft regulations," said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer at CDPHE.
CDPHE estimates the package will reduce volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions in Colorado by approximately 92,000 tons per year. That's more VOC emissions than the VOCs emitted by all cars in Colorado in a year, and it would be a 34 percent reduction based on a 2011 inventory by CDPHE that showed oil and gas VOC emissions were approximately 275,000 tons.
The draft rules also include elements that have the unique and additional benefit of significantly reducing methane emissions.
These kinds of significant reductions in VOC emissions will improve public health by decreasing asthma and other respiratory ailments.