Rodger Steen: Cleaner air for Colorado
Many of you will have seen the initial articles about updated air emission rules for oil and gas development in Colorado, passed as of Sunday. The real story is that all of Colorado, but especially the Western Slope, won big, and Routt County and Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley played an integral part in the groundwork for that win.
The EPA had promulgated tighter emission standards for new oil and gas production facilities in October 2012, and these were incorporated in the Colorado rules. Beyond that, Colorado has established an even better rule by applying those standards to existing production sites and has built a strong monitoring requirement to ensure strict compliance with those new rules. Effective compliance monitoring especially is needed for oil and gas production wells because leaks of pollution are so difficult to detect without special equipment, and there are many valves, hatches and joints susceptible to leaking.
These new rules were needed on the East Slope because of the ozone non-attainment conditions (concentrations above the health standard) existing there. The big win for the West Slope is that those same requirements also will apply to the West Slope to protect our currently clean air. Previously, the West Slope industry was exempted from the special East Slope air emission rules.
Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley and Western Colorado Congress pushed for two other improvements. The first was to have more transparency with the compliance monitoring, and we asked that all compliance records be posted to the Internet. This did not become part of the new rules, but it is imbedded in the rule “Statement of Basis,” which is guidance for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to begin the transition to posting the compliance monitoring records on the Internet. Secondly, we pushed for tighter emission requirements for wells within a quarter-mile of residences and public buildings, which is an issue in Weld County but not yet in Northwest Colorado. This also was included in the “Statement of Basis,” a goal for the Department of Public Health and Environment to work toward.
Colorado won not just because of the more up-to-date emission and compliance monitoring requirements that will result in much lower emissions, but equally important because we got here through collaboration among industry, the Department of Public Health and Environment and environmental groups. The industry agreed that these new requirements were reasonable, technologically feasible and environmentally responsible. There were some members of industry — largely stuck in a 1980s operating mentality — that fought the proposals, and some environmental groups that wanted much more, but the final rules represent reasoned compromise.
Your Routt County commissioners were instrumental in these wins for all of us by including strong environmental limits in the production site special-use permits that they issue, beginning in 2012 and continuing to the present. These local requirements drew strong criticism from the oil and gas trade organization, COGA and even Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission with the charge of meddling in their responsibilities. But the message was clear to the CDPHE, COGCC and industry that West Slope counties care about our environment and will resist unnecessary air emissions.
If it is cost-effective to meet the new and tighter emission requirements on the East Slope, then it also is cost-effective to meet them on the West Slope. Several industry players (Shell was the first in Routt County) realized that it was time to become more a part of the communities within which they operate and become more environmentally responsible. Other operators joined the movement in the past two years, and here we are today with well-conceived and strong oil and gas air regulations throughout Colorado.
Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley
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Editor’s note: The story was updated at 8:33 p.m.