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February 18, 2021

Colorado Air Quality Control Commission Approves Environmental, Local Government, Industry Group Agreement to Lower Methane Emissions From Oil and Gas Wellpads

Approval means some leaky pneumatic controllers at existing well production facilities and compressor stations, not just new facilities, will be replaced with better technology

Contacts

Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, (303) 623-9466

David McCabe, Clean Air Task Force, (624) 710-6542

Nathalie Eddy, Earthworks, (202) 887-1872, ext 131

Robert Ukeiley, Center for Biological Diversity, (720) 496-8568

Ramesh Bhatt, Sierra Club, (859) 333-4537

Denver, CO

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission has approved a compromise proposal, negotiated by environmental groups, local governments, and industry groups, for a first-in-the-nation rule to require some pneumatic control devices at oil-and-gas facilities to be retrofit to lower methane emissions.

A coalition of conservation groups — Sierra Club, Earthworks, and Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Earthjustice — partnered with other environmental groups, local governments, and industry to tackle the problem of emissions from pneumatic controllers.

Pneumatic control devices are used to control temperatures, manage pressure and liquid levels, and other functions. Most of them run on gas from the wells, so every time they open and close, a small amount of methane gas and other smog-causing pollutants are released. But, with an estimated 100,000 controllers in the state, the small amounts add up quickly.

In addition, many of the controllers don’t operate properly and release more gas than they should. Many continually release gas. More modern controllers use compressed air or electronic mechanisms to avoid unnecessary pollution.

Environmental organizations and local governments have been calling for additional emission reductions from pneumatic devices for years, and conservation groups proposed retrofit requirements to the Commission in 2017 and 2020. The rule calls for non-emitting controllers at new installations, with very limited exceptions and also requires operators to begin replacing polluting pneumatic controllers at existing production facilities and compressor stations.

Operators will need to begin phasing in retrofits of pneumatic controllers at existing facilities, though they’ll have flexibility to choose where to implement those emission reduction measures. Retrofitting would also be required when operators drill new wells or refracture existing sites.

In 2019, the Colorado Legislature passed H.B. 1261, mandating steep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The methane released by these pneumatic devices is a potent greenhouse gas. Eliminating existing emitting pneumatic devices will help meet H.B. 1261’s targets, but substantial additional reductions will be necessary.

“Colorado is leading the country by adopting the first retrofit requirement for non-emitting pneumatics,” said Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley. “These common-sense requirements are long overdue and will be a critical step toward improving public health and meeting the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

“Pneumatic controllers are a huge source of unnecessary climate pollution nationwide,” said David McCabe, a senior scientist with Clean Air Task Force, who served as an expert witness for Earthjustice. “The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that these devices emit nearly 2 million tons of methane a year into the air nationwide, which will warm the climate over the next 20 years as much as the carbon dioxide from 44 coal-fired power plants. By adopting these rules, Colorado can show other states, and the country, the way to dramatically reduce their climate-damaging methane emissions.”

“As our extensive field investigations show, Colorado oil and gas operators fail to control their pollution far too often,” said Nathalie Eddy, Earthworks Interim Field Manager. “Requiring industry to use modern-day technologies is an essential step toward putting people before polluters. We look forward to the state enforcing this new requirement — as well as taking other necessary agency actions to better protect health and the climate.”

“Metro-Denver and the North Front Range have violated health-based smog standards for 15 years despite the state passing numerous rules that it claimed would fix our air pollution problems,” said Robert Ukeiley, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We know that more is needed to get our smog down to safe levels, and time is of the essence, but this rule is a good step in the right direction towards finally providing Coloradoans with clean, healthy air.”

“The requirement to replace existing pneumatic devices is especially important because studies show that a significant portion of them are not working properly and are currently emitting copious quantities of ozone causing chemicals and greenhouse gases,” said Ramesh Bhatt, Chair of the Conservation Committee of the Colorado Sierra Club.

The environmental organizations and local governments involved in negotiating the compromise language include:

  • Environmental Groups: Sierra Club, Earthworks, the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Clean Air Task Force, Environmental Defense Fund, Western Colorado Alliance, League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC), and Conservation Colorado
  • Local governments: Boulder County Public Health, the City and County of Denver, City of Aurora, City and County of Broomfield, Commerce City, Jefferson County Public Health, and 36 other local governments acting through Colorado Communities for Climate Action

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Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.