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New oil and gas emissions rules approved

Post Independent oil and gas graphic

The Air Quality Control Commission unanimously approved sweeping new statewide rules for oil and gas companies Thursday, satisfying community groups but worrying county officials.

“Since air knows no political boundaries, any source of air pollution in Colorado is of concern to all citizens who want their families to breathe clean air,” said Leslie Robinson, a Rifle resident and member of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance.

During a public hearing on the rules in Rifle Dec. 10, industry advocates said rules may be needed on the Front Range, where air is more polluted, but were unnecessary and burdensome for Western Slope producers.

Some of the nine commission members noted that during public hearings on the rules in Rifle and Durango, the vast majority of speakers were in favor of the new requirements.

But a coalition of rural local governments, including Garfield County, urged less aggressive thresholds.

“We are disappointed in the Air Quality Control Commission’s decision to impose costly rules on low-producing and low-emitting wells in rural areas that will do little to improve air quality but will harm the economic well-being of our communities,” Garfield County Commission chair John Martin said in a statement.

Garfield County government services rely on property taxes from gas production companies for the majority of its revenue.

According to a December fiscal analysis, the new rules will cost the industry as a whole an estimated $8.9 million per year.

The analysis notes that increased costs can always have an adverse on the economy, but states that over the past decade, the oil and gas industry “has experienced unprecedented growth” even as the state beefed up regulation.

The newly adopted rules, part of a broader effort to increase oil and gas regulations under Senate bill 181, place stricter requirements for gas leak testing, mandate annual emissions reports, and set timelines for identifying and fixing leaks. 

One key change is a requirement of semi-annual leak detection and repair inspections at all oil and gas producing facilities.

Industry representatives see the rules as politically motivated, and say oil and gas companies should bear some of the credit for improving air quality.

“This industry has done more to reduce emissions and improve Colorado’s air quality than anyone,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.

“The engineers, geologists and scientists who work in this industry and focus on these issues every day deserve significant credit for what they’re able to achieve.

Another segment of the rules ends a 90-day grace period for submitting emissions notices after beginning operations. Activists called the 90-day period a loophole, but Haley says it “adds bureaucratic complexity with literally zero emissions savings.”

For some who have spent years advocating for stricter rules, Thursday’s vote was a victory.

A Battlement Mesa grassroots group was involved in proposing a rule to heighten emissions testing requirements for gas pads within 1,000 feet of schools and neighborhoods.

“Everyone living near a well will appreciate this significant and courageous action by the AQCC, as well as the new statewide rules to reduce ozone and methane emissions,” said Dave Devanney of the Battlement Citizens Alliance.

tphippen@postindependent.com


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