Colorado's proposal shows what it takes to make progress on climate

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At a time when partisan rancor is the order of the day, this week’s news out of Colorado is a tribute to the power of partnership. On Monday, Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado proposed new regulations for oil and gas operations that, if adopted, will cut both conventional air pollution and climate pollution – by making Colorado the first state in the nation to tackle the problem of methane emissions. The big announcement showed that industry leaders, state officials and an environmental group like Environmental Defense Fund can sit down together to negotiate a plan to deliver cleaner, safer air. And just in time. As EDF’s Rocky Mountain Regional Director Dan Grossman told NPR this week, “the fundamental question [is] whether or not citizens will tolerate oil and gas development.”

On Election Day, four Colorado communities voted to ban hydraulic fracturing. State officials and industry leaders are getting the message: public trust has been badly damaged, and the only way to restore it is by putting in place strong rules to protect air, water, and communities. Not every community is going to ban oil and gas development, obviously, so we need to protect the many places where it is happening.  

While the new Colorado proposal doesn’t address all the issues surrounding oil and gas development, the governor and the state’s regulators should be applauded for their efforts in bringing forward these commonsense air pollution measures, which were agreed to and supported by EDF, Anadarko Petroleum, Encana, and Noble Energy. And we’re not the only ones who think so. Newspapers from Los Angeles to Denver to New York wrote in support of the new rules. New York Times columnist Joe Nocera praised both the proposed legislation and Environmental Defense Fund’s collaborative approach in an op-ed published Monday. Nocera writes:

“In 2011, [EDF] helped negotiate [Colorado] rules governing the disclosure of the chemicals in fracking compounds — a deal that was sealed with Hickenlooper, the industry and E.D.F. representatives sharing a stage. [EDF] has negotiated rules to require groundwater testing near wells to detect any possible contamination. In Texas, it was involved in coming up with regulations for well integrity…In each case, E.D.F. is pushing other states to adopt these rules, which, taken together, would help ensure that natural gas will live up to its promise of being a better, cleaner fuel.”

The proposed rules in Colorado are just one important step toward controlling climate pollution. There’s a long way to go before anyone can say that we’re meeting the climate challenge – or addressing the unacceptable impacts of oil and gas development. Right now we need to work even harder to see that Colorado’s proposed rules are adopted and that other states follow suit. Make no mistake: To win, we need the whole environmental community to keep up the pressure.  

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Eric Pooley

Eric Pooley

Eric, senior vice president of Strategy and Communications, works with program staff throughout EDF to develop and implement strategies to achieve our environmental advocacy goals.

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Comments

If you listen to the oil and gas drilling companies, We would be far too costly to these companies to disclose the chemicals mixture in fracturing fluids or have strict measures to reduce excess methane releases. Colorado, on the other hand, is an example that both common sense restrictions can happen without it destroying the entire profit margin of the drilling companies.

Thank you for your comment, we agree. These ‘common sense restrictions’ can help eliminate waste, save money and reduce environmental impact. Many practices and technologies are already being used in states such as Colorado and Wyoming to reduce gas losses, which result in greater recovery and sale of natural gas, and thus increased economic gains. The return on the initial investment for many of these practices is sometimes as short as a few months and almost always less than two years. You can read more on our Energy Exchange blog here: http://blogs.edf.org/energyexchange/2011/10/24/it-makes-dollars-%e2%80%9...

Your recent EDF/fracker/UofTexas "study" stated that methane leakage from horizontal gas drilling is less than 1/2 of one percent. So why is it such a big deal that Colorado's governor has approved regulations requiring that leakage be limited to less than 5%.
Perhaps Colorado knows that leakage is as great as 17% (per NOAA), and that your "study" is flawed in favor of the frackers you so ardently support.
I re-interate that I will no longer be contributing to EDF.

Robert, thanks for the comment. Yes, the UT study did show that, if the measurements taken are representative of industry as a whole, methane emissions from the oil and gas production sector are in line with U.S. EPA estimates. The study also found that emissions from certain activities were much higher than EPA estimates – specifically, emissions from equipment (so-called “fugitives” or unintended methane leaks) and emissions from pneumatic devices where methane is vented as part of routine operation. The Colorado proposal addresses both of those activities and more. If the proposal is adopted, it would implement the strongest leak detection and repair requirements in the nation for reducing fugitive emissions. And it would require the retrofit of all high-bleed pneumatic devices with lower-emitting devices statewide. The proposal (http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheadername1=Con...) would also implement stronger emission control requirements for storage tanks, dehydrators and venting of associated gas from oil wells – big sources of both methane emissions and emissions of volatile organic compounds, which contribute to smog formation. For these specific sources the proposed rules would force companies to eliminate 95 percent of uncontrolled toxic pollutants and VOCs. That doesn’t mean the Colorado proposal is designed to limit methane leakage to less than 5% of the gas produced, as you suggest. Rather, you can consider whatever the leakage rate happens to be from these sources (a value no one knows for sure) to be reduced by 95%. EDF’s Senior Scientist Ramon Alvarez explained it this way, “say that the current leakage happens to be 4%, and you reduce it by 95%; you would be left with a leak rate of 0.2% (one-twentieth the original value).” Getting methane leakage under control is essential. Setting limits is a valuable part of achieving this but so is reducing emissions of methane and other contaminants to the greatest extent possible. We think the Colorado proposal – while not everything we would ask for -- clearly represents the most ambitious effort that any jurisdiction has put forward on this front.

As a lifelong enviromentalist I really appreciate the EDF's rational approach to hydrofracking. I have become completely disenchanted with the false-choices, hyperbole and ad hominem attacks favored by many other enviromental groups.

Thank you for actually getting something useful done!

Thanks very much for your comment John, we really appreciate the support.