The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission took comments today from a number of environmental groups as the commission considered ground-breaking revisions to the state’s air pollution rules for the oil and gas industry intended to deal with the fracking-fueled boom of the industry in Colorado. While the revised rules can and should be strengthened further before they are finalized, they provide a promising start to significantly reducing methane and other air pollutants from Colorado's oil and gas operations.
Today’s commission meeting represented the first opportunity for the public to comment on the Hickenlooper administration’s proposed revisions, unveiled Monday, to the oil and gas rules. The state’s proposal outlines a regulatory scheme that would make Colorado the first state in the nation to regulate methane emissions and impose state-wide leak detection and repair requirements on the oil and gas industry.
“We applaud the state for proposing to regulate the powerful greenhouse gas methane,” said Michael Freeman, staff attorney for Earthjustice, the public interest law firm working with Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthworks. “If adopted, these regulations would make Colorado a national leader on methane. We urge the commission to follow through in adopting strong protections for both smog and methane leaks.”
The groups also welcomed additional controls for volatile organic compounds, chemicals which form ground-level ozone (commonly known as smog). The proposal would significantly tighten controls on storage tanks, the largest oil and gas source of these smog-forming pollutants.
“When it comes to ozone, it’s important that the commission keep its eye on the larger goal of bringing us into compliance with the ozone standard,” said Earthjustice staff attorney Robin Cooley. “Given the fracking boom underway in Colorado, the commission cannot ignore this significant issue.”
Although the state recognizes that the Front Range fails to meet federal public health standards for ozone, the proposal is silent on whether the changes to the rules are sufficient to solve this problem.
The oil and gas industry is the state’s largest source of volatile organic compounds and is responsible for significant emissions of the global warming pollutant methane as well as toxic air pollutants, including benzene and other carcinogens. The explosive growth of the industry, 3,200 new wells drilled annually in recent years, has been accompanied by worsening smog in both urban and rural areas and growing concerns about the impacts of toxic pollutants to Colorado’s communities.
“While these rules should be strengthened further, Colorado is taking a big, first-of-its-kind step forward in helping to lower the environmental footprint of fossil fuel development that is already underway in the state,” said NRDC Staff Scientist Vignesh Gowrishankar. “Of course, fracking poses numerous other threats to public health and the environment that the state has yet to sufficiently address. The air pollution reductions should be just the first in a larger effort to better protect the people of Colorado from fracking’s risks.”
The commission heard public statements before setting a hearing in February to consider formally adopting the proposal.