Friday, November 22, 2013

Changes in the Works for Colorado Oil and Gas Emission Standards

A derrick-man services an oil rig.
Photo Courtesy: NIOSH
Recently, the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) held a ruling to discuss a new regulation proposal that aims to seriously reduced air pollution caused by oil and gas activities in Colorado. The proposed rule would cut emissions by one third. The ACPD would reduce the thresholds for acceptable emission levels and set the nation's first statewide standard for methane emissions.

The new rules are a product of negotiations between the APCD, three of the state's largest oil and gas developers (Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Encana Corporation, and Noble Energy), along with the Environmental Defense Fund.

These negotiations came about due to increased citizen concern regarding the increasing oil and gas industry. The number of active wells in Colorado has risen nearly 50% from 2006-2011; there are more than 30,000 active wells within the state (according to the federal Energy Information Adminsitration).

The increase in oil and gas development has lead to an increase of smoggy haze, especially in areas where new well sites are concentrated. Currently, nine counties, including Rocky Mountain National Park, exceed federal ozone limits. However, current federal regulations apply primarily to new wells, in addition, they do not directly limit methane leaks, nor do they require companies to inspect well locations for leaks.

Colorado's new rules would alleviate these concerns by applying to new and existing wells as well as equipment. The rules would cover traditional petroleum and gas exploration and development, as well as hydraulic fracturing (which receives most of the negative attention).

The new rules are being praised by industry representatives as well as environmentalists. The Colorado environment will benefit from the reduction of pollution and oil and gas companies will benefit from the reduced amount of waste occurring during leaks.

There are still a few sticky issues to consider. Environmentalists have expressed concern that there are no requirements for well site inspections. Another issue, is that much of the cost burden of retro-fitting and adapting operations will be felt by smaller oil and gas companies. The rules could be finalized in February of 2014 and have an estimated cost of $30 million.

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