Guest opinion: BLM methane rule crucial to keeping West Slope’s skies blue
March 25, 2017
What drives many folks West is the promise of open spaces and bright blue skies. Unfortunately, recent spikes in ozone levels have imperiled those blue skies along Colorado's West Slope.
This influx of smog is having a direct impact on many families in Colorado, particularly for the thousands who suffer from asthma or know someone who does. Colorado has made a good faith effort to address this problem – in partnership with oil and gas companies – to reduce ozone- or smog-forming emissions. We now ask that Sen. Cory Gardner recognize this effort and vote against a Congressional Review Act resolution that would undue federal rules that cut methane waste and help address air pollution region-wide.
Three years ago our state finalized groundbreaking new rules that cut ozone-forming pollutants that set the nation's first-ever standards to cut methane pollution. This has inspired other states across the county to do the same, though Colorado's neighbors Utah and Wyoming have not lived up to those standards.
While these policies were indeed a victory for cleaner air and a stable climate, they are hardly all that is needed to fully protect public health since air pollution migrates.
This is abundantly clear when looking at ozone levels in northwest Colorado that are due in part to oil and gas development happening on the Utah side of the border. One industry-funded study found that about 98 percent of the ozone-forming pollutants in the Uintah Basin, which straddles Utah and Colorado, are from energy development. In fact, wintertime ozone pollution is already a major problem this year, where pollution levels exceeded national public health standards for five days in February.
In addition, the giant methane cloud that NASA scientists detected over the Four Corners region was attributed to oil and gas wells in northwest New Mexico. In short, regardless of what state we live in, we can all suffer the consequences of excessive pollution from mismanaged energy development in neighboring states.
Methane is the primary component of natural gas. So by cutting methane pollution, we can also save tens of millions of dollars in natural gas that would have literally gone up in smoke and ensure a fair return to counties and the American taxpayer.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees roughly 100,000 oil and gas wells on public lands in the Western U.S., where operations are leaking about $330 million-worth of natural gas in a single year. The agency is remedying this by requiring operators to reduce the amount of methane gas that is vented, burned or flared into the atmosphere. The agency's objective is to increase efficiency and reduce gas waste. However, these rules also have important public health benefits by reducing harmful ozone-forming emissions that are often released alongside methane.
Some of our elected officials are in favor of undoing the benefits that could be reaped by those policies and threatened to demolish these protections under the Congressional Review Act. This would both undue these common sense policies and stifle the BLM's ability from issuing a similar rule in the future. Sen. Cory Gardner remains undecided on the issue at the time of this writing.
At minimum, the public deserves a conversation when it comes to developing or dismantling policies that impact our health. It is why the BLM went through a multiyear process to gather input from thousands of stakeholders across the West before implementing a bipartisan policy that more than 83 percent of Coloradans supported according to a 2017 poll. Wiping these policies off the map and banning any future conversation on the issue is the exact definition of government overreach that many of the same politicians campaigned against.
No one action can solve all of our pollution problems. But one action can make it worse. Coloradans deserve elected officials who will keep public health in mind when they make policy decisions that can impact our air quality for generations to come.
We all can agree that clean air that is good for public health is crucial for our economy to continue to grow on the western slope. For Colorado's air and our health, Sen. Gardner should join Sen. Michael Bennet and oppose the rollback of the BLM's methane waste rule.
Karen Sjoberg is the chair of Citizens for Clean Air in Grand Junction, and Leslie Robinson is the president of Grand Valley Citizens Alliance in Silt.