New air quality rules for Colorado’s booming oil and gas industry go under review Wednesday when health officials start taking public testimony on a set of upgrades meant to reduce air pollution from drilling.
Parts of Colorado haven’t meet federal ozone standards for four years. The state’s Air Quality Control Commission last year proposed tougher air quality checks for energy producers including the nation’s first statewide rule on methane emissions.
The rules also require a new monitoring system of infrared cameras at drilling sites to speed detection of leaks.
5 Things to Know about the rules and what they might mean for Colorado:
WHERE THEY CAME FROM
Colorado’s oil and gas industry is regulated by a special commission that critics have long accused of being too friendly to drillers. But air quality is regulated by an agency in the Health Department, which proposed the regulations in November.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper touted the rules as a grand compromise among environmentalists, health officials and the oil and gas industry.
The state’s largest oil and gas companies — Anadarko, Encana and Noble Energy — signed on to the proposal. So did the Environmental Defense Fund.
WHAT THE CHANGES ARE
The rules are intended to force energy producers to cut down on “fugitive emissions,” those air pollutants that can leak from drilling sites and storage sites.
The rules include a first-in-the-nation requirement for leak detection from tanks and pipelines using infrared cameras that can spot problems that otherwise may not be discovered. Another first is the statewide methane emissions standard for oil and gas production.
The rules would also force drillers to use flare devices to burn off emissions from facilities not connected to pipelines.
The state has put the tab for industry compliance to the stricter air rules at about $40 million a year. The Colorado Petroleum Association puts the cost at about $100 million.
HOW THEY’LL HELP
The Commission predicts the rules would trim more than a third of Colorado’s air pollution from volatile organic compounds, which contribute to ozone. That’s about 92,000 tons a year.
An announcement touting the rules last year said they’d be the equivalent of taking every car off the roads for a year.
The methane limits are being promoted as especially significant. Though drillers don’t emit as much methane as carbon, methane traps more heat.
Hickenlooper said last year that the air rules “represent a significant step forward in addressing a wider range of emissions that before now have not been directly regulated.”
WHAT’S NOT IN THE RULES
The proposal doesn’t address some of the biggest points of contention about Colorado’s oil and gas industry.
They don’t address how far oil and gas wells must be from homes, schools or businesses.
The rules also don’t increase in-person inspections of drilling sites, nor do they raise fines for operators that break regulations.
“The compromise certainly isn’t everything that all parties wanted,” said Dan Grossman of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Rocky Mountain Regional Office.
But Grossman and the large energy companies that agreed to the rules say they’re a good first step.
The Colorado Petroleum Association, which represents those companies but also smaller operators, is expected to oppose parts of the new regulations, which the CPA says could prove too burdensome for some.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW
The public hearings begin Wednesday, and the Air Quality Control Commission has rented space in Aurora because they say their regular hearing room isn’t big enough.
Interested parties who can’t drive to Aurora will be allowed to give telephone testimony, though they have to register by Monday.
The Commission could approve the rules soon after the public testimony ends, though they could also keep working in response to what they hear.