State health officials will write new rules to regulate oil and gas emissions “from cradle to grave” under a law revamping how the industry is regulated in Colorado.
Along with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state Air Quality Control Commission will develop rules to carry out Senate Bill 19-181, signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis on April 16.
“It’s a pretty ambitious directive,” Garry Kaufman, director of the state Air Pollution Control Division, said of the bill. “We’ll really be looking very comprehensively at emissions from cradle to grave.”
In other words, from drilling, which the division doesn’t currently monitor, to transmission, or pipelines, through processing. State staffers will meet with interested parties and develop rules over the next year.
The state has tightened regulation of pollution from oil and gas sites through the years, but a nine-county area along the Front Range remains out of compliance with federal air-quality standards.
Oil and gas production and vehicles are the major sources of pollutants that form ground-level ozone — smog. Oil and gas operations also emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.
In 2014, Colorado became the first state in the nation to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas sites and three years later strengthened some of the rules.
Earlier this year, 27 county and municipal elected officials in western Colorado wrote to a state task force and asked that methane and ozone regulations be stepped up statewide. The task force will make recommendations to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission no later than January 2020.
The new law makes it clear that rules on oil and gas emissions will be strengthened overall, said Dan Grossman, the Environmental Defense Fund’s national director of state programs for oil and gas.
“The bill also adds certainty at the end of the day that there’s going to be a strengthening of the methane rules, which will be good news for everyone,” Grossman added.
The new law requires that oil and gas companies install continuous methane emissions monitors at multi-well sites, facilities with high emissions and ones near occupied dwellings. State regulators will also look at bolstering requirements for detecting and repairing leaks in equipment and further reducing emissions from pneumatic devices used to keeping the gas moving.
Regulatory changes in recent years, including the methane rules, have helped cut pollution even as oil and gas production has increased, industry representatives said. The industry has been an active participant in efforts to reduce emissions, including voluntary programs during the summer, when ozone is typically worse, Dan Haley, CEO and president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said in a statement.
“As we proceed with the new rulemakings brought about by Senate Bill 181, we are hopeful that the progress that has already been made is part of the conversations going forward,” Ben Marter, Colorado Petroleum Council spokesman, said in a statement.
Grossman said he hopes the air commission will explore incorporating new and innovative technology to improve the detection of methane leaks throughout the oil and gas supply chain.
Robert Ukeiley, an environmental health attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said he hopes that as regulators address the cumulative effects of oil and gas they consider how permits are approved. He said the current process allows companies to break up emission sources into smaller units, which doesn’t take into account the overall impact.
“Ultimately, it’s a big problem in terms of ozone,” Ukeiley said.
Kaufman said the air pollution control division will review its rules for permits, including a 27-year-old exemption that allows companies to emit pollutants for 90 days before applying for a permit.
Industry officials have said the 90-day window allows them to determine how much a site will pollute before limits are set by a permit. They say they operate the facilities to meet state standards.
Companies are required to keep emissions low and must verify their compliance as part of the permit process, Kaufman said.
However, Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette has questioned whether the practice violates the federal Clean Air Act. The environmental group WildEarth Guardians has notified oil and gas operators along Colorado’s Front Range that it plans to sue over the exemption.