The State of Colorado today took a bold step toward establishing the nation’s leading program for controlling air and climate pollution from oil and gas operations. The state Air Pollution Control Division proposed new regulations that, if adopted in hearings scheduled for February 2014, would achieve important reductions of volatile organic compounds – an ozone precursor – and methane, the principal component of natural gas and a highly potent greenhouse gas.
“This proposal represents a model for the nation. It shows that state officials, industry leaders and environmental groups can come together to develop win-win solutions that help square the need to protect local communities and the environment with the need for domestic energy production,” said Fred Krupp, President of Environmental Defense Fund.
EDF believes that natural gas can be a significant part of moving toward a low-carbon future if strong rules and enforcement capacity are in place to protect communities from discharges to air, land and water, and to make sure the greenhouse gas benefit natural gas has over coal isn’t undercut by methane emissions.
Natural gas produces half the carbon dioxide (CO2) of coal when combusted and offers advantages for local and regional air quality compared to coal, since it emits far fewer ozone precursors and sulfur oxides and almost no particulate matter or mercury. This inherent carbon benefit of natural gas can be undermined by leakage of methane throughout the natural gas supply chain, including during production activities. Methane is at least 28 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas over the longer term and at least 84 times more potent in the near term. Likewise, oil and gas operations are the largest source of man-made volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions in Colorado, contributing to smog formation. The proposed additions to Colorado’s existing rules, if finalized, would create a national model for addressing emissions of methane and VOCs by:
- Establishing the first set of rules in the nation to directly regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas production sector.
- Establishing the most robust rules of any state for reducing “fugitive” emissions, by requiring operators to perform frequent checks for leaks using infrared cameras and other modern technologies and quickly repair those leaks.
- Strengthening Colorado’s rules for controlling methane and ozone precursors from storage tanks and other equipment.
“Tackling smog and climate pollution from the oil and gas sector is a critical part of making sure communities are protected and that the lower carbon advantage of natural gas doesn’t simply leak away,” Krupp said. “If this package is adopted, Coloradans will breathe easier, knowing they have the best rules in the country for controlling air pollution from oil and gas activities.” Krupp said.
“The leadership of Governor Hickenlooper and the companies that have stepped forward to support this rule, Anadarko Petroleum, Encana, and Noble Energy, has been indispensable,” Krupp said. “At a time when the debate over shale gas is increasingly polarized, it’s heartening that with this air pollution rule state officials, energy companies and environmental organizations have demonstrated they are up to the task of working together to make sure strong safeguards are in place.”
The rule package will be formally proposed to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission by agency staff on November 21 and will be scheduled for hearings in February 2014. The Commission meetings are open to the public.