Conservation, Industry Groups Reach Agreement to Lower Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Wellpads

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


Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, (303) 623-9466 

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

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

Stuart Ross, Clean Air Task Force, (914) 649-5037

A coalition of conservation groups — Sierra Club, Earthworks, and Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Earthjustice — has reached an agreement with industry groups on a joint proposal to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission for a first-in-the-nation rule to require pneumatic control devices at oil-and-gas facilities to be retrofit to lower methane emissions.

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 is released. But, with an estimated 56,000 of these controllers in the Front Range oil fields of the DJ Basin alone, 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 methane emissions.

The conservation groups have been calling for additional emission reductions from pneumatic devices for years and proposed retrofit requirements to the Commission in 2017 and 2020. The consensus proposal 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 phase 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.

“Colorado has the opportunity to lead the country by adopting the first retrofit requirement for non-emitting pneumatics,” said Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley. “These cost-effective requirements are long overdue and will be a critical step toward addressing Colorado’s ozone problems and meeting the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

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.

“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.

“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. “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.”

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