Promising Start to Colorado Air Pollution Rules But Much Work Remains

Rulemaking process must result in strong protections for public health and Colorado communities


Michael Freeman, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9615


Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9611

The Colorado Air Pollution Control Division today unveiled proposed revisions to the state’s air pollution rules for the oil and gas industry that would, for the first time, directly regulate the powerful greenhouse gas methane. The proposal is the start of what will be a months-long effort to address Colorado’s growing smog problem and reduce global warming pollution associated with the oil and gas industry.

“We are happy to see the state recognizing the serious public health and global warming pollution problems caused by rampant oil and gas development,” said Mike Freeman, staff attorney at Earthjustice. “This looks like a good start, but we’re still reviewing the proposal and the devil is in the details. There are a number of exceptions and loopholes that will need to be closed.”

The Division’s proposal now goes to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, which will hold a hearing in February. Earthjustice and its conservation partners—the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthworks and WildEarth Guardians—will participate in the hearing to ensure that the final adopted rules protect public health and Colorado communities.

“The Commission should take this opportunity to lead the nation with methane controls and a strong leak detection and repair program,” said Robin Cooley, also a staff attorney at Earthjustice. “Requiring oil and gas companies to fix leaks should be a no-brainer; it reduces waste, global warming pollution, and dangerous smog.”

Colorado is experiencing an oil and gas boom; the state is now home to more than 50,000 active wells, with another 3,200 new wells drilled each year. The fracking-fueled resurgence of the oil and gas industry over the last decade has come at the expense of Colorado’s air quality.

The oil and gas industry is the state’s largest source of volatile organic compounds, chemicals which form ground-level ozone (commonly known as smog). Ozone pollution triggers asthma attacks, and has been linked with increases in hospital admissions and premature deaths.

Despite its location at the foot of the Rockies and a reputation as one of the nation’s healthiest metropolitan areas, the Denver-Front Range area currently violates the federal ozone standard. In recent years the ozone levels have become more severe and violations of the standard more widespread.

Oil and gas-related smog is also worsening within Colorado’s iconic landscapes and rural areas. Rocky Mountain National Park ranks as the national park with the highest smog levels outside of California. And the Western Slope is now suffering from violations of the federal ozone standard.

In addition to causing smog, drilling and fracking-related activities emit other toxic air pollutants, including benzene and other carcinogens.

“As the fracking boom continues, we face an uphill battle for clean air,” continued Cooley. “We expect the Commission to work quickly and responsibly to adopt rules that will be truly protective of our state and way of life.”

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