Air pollution control system could cut ‘flash’ emissions
EnCana will take the lead in designing a new air pollution control system designed to eliminate so-called “flash” emissions that result from oil and gas exploration.The state health department ordered EnCana to do the project because the company violated its air pollution permit. EnCana will spend at least $407,000 on the project and must pay a civil penalty of $40,740.If successful, the system could become an industry standard for eliminating a source of pollution that only recently has come under control in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.EnCana will design, install and operate the closed gathering system at one of its natural gas development areas in Garfield or Rio Blanco County.”This project is a prime example of what we hope to achieve by including supplemental environmental projects as terms of settlements with violators,” said Douglas H. Benevento, the department’s executive director. “If this system proves to be successful, it can be installed at natural gas exploration sites throughout the state and eliminate thousands of tons of volatile organic compound emissions that are a known contributor to ground-level ozone formation.”The volatile organic compounds that result from oil and gas exploration are commonly referred to as “flash” emissions. The natural gas recovery process involves pumping liquids containing natural gas to the earth’s surface from underground, where they are under intense pressure, and keeping the liquids temporarily in large atmospheric storage tanks. Pumping the pressurized liquids into the tanks results in a release of gases akin to what occurs when opening a can of carbonated soda.Several thousand atmospheric storage tanks exist in natural-gas development areas in Colorado. Until recently, the flash emissions from these tanks typically were uncontrolled in Colorado.Research during the late 1990s and earlier this decade showed that flash emissions are a significant pollutant source and contribute to, among other things, the formation of ground-level ozone along Colorado’s Front Range.Ozone is a secondary pollutant that forms in the lower atmosphere when chemicals such as volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides react in the presence of intense sunlight. A lung irritant that can cause breathing problems and respiratory infections in the elderly, the young and those with pre-existing ailments, ozone can cause breathing problems, chest pain and other symptoms in those exposed to higher concentrations. A key component of Colorado’s efforts to reduce ground-level ozone along the Front Range is the Early Action Compact, an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The agreement, signed in late 2002, requires the development of a detailed set of pollution controls, and Colorado committed to achieving a 47 percent reduction in flash emissions in areas along the Front Range.The reductions, which Colorado Gov. Bill Owens proposed and both the Regional Air Quality Council and the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission approved, passed the Colorado Legislature unanimously during the 2004 session. The reductions do not apply to EnCana’s natural gas development areas in either Garfield or Rio Blanco County.EnCana must design, implement and submit a report about the closed gathering system to the Department of Public Health and Environment by Dec. 31. The report must include a detailed analysis of itemized costs, operation problems and solutions; and a description of the environmental and public health benefits that resulted.Representatives from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s air pollution control division are participating in the development of the closed gathering system.Benevento said he strongly supports the collaborative process between government and industry that lead to the project.”The enforcement of air quality regulations serving as a driving force for the development of new technologies is really gratifying,” Benevento said. “It is important for government and industry to work together to seek solutions that lead to environmental improvement while encouraging efficient business practices whenever possible.”We appreciate EnCana’s commitment to reducing the environmental impact of its operations and look forward to the potential benefits of this innovative project,” he said.
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