Coalition wants stricter air-quality rules near homes, schools
PARACHUTE — A coalition of Colorado citizen groups, including the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, seeks greater air quality protections related to oil and gas operations that are located within one-quarter mile of homes and schools.
“Colorado routinely allows oil and gas wells and production facilities near homes and schools,” according to a prehearing statement filed with the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission on behalf of the organizations.
“Given this practice, it is incumbent … to require that those facilities closest to homes and schools employ the most protective best management practices and technologies to increase public health and safety,” the groups contend.
The statement was filed by attorney Matthew Sura for the GVCA, Western Colorado Congress, Western Slope Conservation Center, Citizens for Clean Air, Weld Air and Water and Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley.
It was one of several statements filed with the commission earlier this week, as it prepares for public hearings next month to consider proposed new oil and gas air quality standards.
Comments also came from Garfield County commissioners and from several other Colorado counties, as well as from industry groups.
“What we’re asking is that whenever these operations take place within a quarter mile of homes or any gathering places for people, the rules need to be stronger and more care taken to protect people,” said Bob Arrington, spokesman for the GVCA.
Among the stepped-up protections sought are more frequent inspections, a quicker response time whenever a leak is detected, increased monitoring following a leak, and stricter standards for volatile organic compound emissions.
“Although water contamination receives a lot of media attention, the primary health risk associated with living near oil and gas development is exposure to toxic fumes and localized air pollution,” according to the citizen groups’ statement.
“Even when industry is employing best available technologies, some air pollution is unavoidable and, according to recent health studies, can result in increasing the risk to residents’ health,” they contend.
The groups also point to peer-reviewed health studies showing that high levels of cancer-causing benzene have been found to travel as far as one-half mile from oil and gas operations during the “flow-back” stage of gas well completion.
Meanwhile, Garfield County commissioners, in their letter to the commission, urge caution when it comes to applying the same standards for ozone constituents statewide.
“Garfield County recommends that the Air Quality Control Commission thoroughly evaluate the proposed regulatory changes to the control of ozone precursor emissions for unintended consequences,” the county’s letter states.
The commission should also carefully weigh the costs and benefits of imposing stricter standards, the county argues.
Kirby Wynn, Garfield County oil and gas liaison, said other counties have made the same argument in their formal statements to the commission.
“Others are questioning whether it makes sense on the Western Slope to have the same rules for ozone precursors as the Front Range,” Wynn said.
“It’s not that Garfield County thinks our rules shouldn’t be as good or as stringent when it comes to ozone prevention, but it should be based on need,” he said. “And we don’t have an ozone problem here in Garfield County.”
Neighboring Rio Blanco County has found high ozone readings near Rangely, that are suspected to come from oil and gas operations in northeastern Utah.
Arrington questions whether there’s enough data to say for sure whether Garfield County is prone to ozone pollutants.
“The county should be thinking in terms of putting even more air monitoring stations out there than they have now,” he said. “Right now, we have had a little bit of a downturn in production, but that could pick up, and we could begin to see problems.”
In another statement filed with the commission by the Monday deadline, the Colorado Oil & Gas Association and the Colorado Petroleum Association argue that the cost for energy companies to comply with stricter air-quality standards is being significantly underestimated by the state.
Colorado’s proposed new air quality rules for oil and gas drillers were announced by Gov. John Hickenlooper in November. Among the provisions would be the first-ever statewide standards for methane emissions from drilling operations.
The Air Quality Control Commission is scheduled to hold a formal public hearing on the proposed rules Feb. 19-21 in Aurora.
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The family of Rosie Ferrin has worked to clean up and make safe again the old schoolhouse in downtown New Castle. Ferrin died this summer and had owned the building that included classrooms turned into apartments for years.