Guest opinion: Colorado paves way to cut methane waste
Colorado is a leader and innovator when it comes to striking a balance between responsible oil and gas development and conservation.
Just over two years ago, we adopted the first-ever air quality rules in the nation that clamp down on methane waste and pollution.
Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is wasted during the oil and gas development process through deliberate flaring and venting, as well as leaky equipment.
Wasted methane also means lost severance and royalty revenue for state and local governments. In fact, one report found that Colorado lost as much as $36 million in tax revenue over a five-year period from wasted natural gas on federal lands alone. These revenues go to rural communities in Colorado most impacted by oil and gas development and help pay for local infrastructure, education, mitigation projects and community resources.
Methane waste also puts our climate and mountain communities at risk as a dangerous global warming pollutant that is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide for the first two-decades after it is released into the atmosphere.
Alongside methane, oil and gas operations also release ozone-forming volatile organic compounds and toxic chemicals such as benzene. Ozone pollution can trigger asthma attacks and aggravate other lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
In June, Colorado State University released a study jointly paid for by Garfield County and the oil and gas industry that took a hard look at oil and gas development and measured air pollution rates throughout the process.
Since the adoption of our state air quality rules, we’ve made great progress in addressing methane waste and pollution. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported that the state has seen a “75 percent decline in the number of sites that need fixing.”
However, there’s still a lot of work ahead of us. CDPHE recently launched a probe after it discovered 152 sites on the Eastern Slope that were violating our new state air rules, leaking methane and ozone-forming pollutants into the atmosphere.
CDPHE should be commended for taking strong action and ensuring our air quality protections are enforced, especially given how short-staffed the agency is. This shows our new air rules are working. Companies are both making reductions through their own efforts, and we’re identifying leaks that need to be fixed.
The move also proves that voluntary actions are simply not enough. Without strong rules, proper monitoring, and enforcement, we never would have found these violations in the first place and ensured they were addressed.
Colorado’s leadership on methane waste and pollution has laid the groundwork for strong action across the nation. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is expected to finalize a methane waste rule later this year that largely draws upon the experience of Colorado and other states such as Wyoming that have taken action.
The rule is set to adopt common sense provisions to cut flaring and venting, ensure regular leak detection and repair, and encourage proper planning up front to avoid pollution later in the development process.
Federal action is critical because Colorado simply cannot go at it alone. The West Slope continues to struggle with ozone pollution problems despite the fact that we have taken bold action to address air pollution across the state.
This is because oil and gas operations just across the state line in Utah’s Uintah Basin are not subject to the same air rules as Colorado. As a result, ozone pollution is blowing east and harming the health of residents on the West Slope. The same is true for our friends in Southwest Colorado who face pollution challenges due to development in the New Mexico portion of the San Juan Basin.
Ensuring strong standards across federal lands will create a level playing field for oil and gas development in the West and ensure all companies are meeting a baseline standard for methane waste and pollution.
Colorado’s leadership has proven that we have the tools and ability to make significant cuts in methane waste and pollution. Now we need to work together across the region to help address our air quality challenges and stop methane waste across the West.
Jill Ryan is an Eagle County commissioner. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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