Citizens group wants Garfield County to rethink stance on air standards

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

A local environmental group wants Garfield County commissioners to retract their opposition to new statewide air emissions standards for oil and gas operators that are currently before the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission.

Given that some of the leading research in the state regarding air quality has been done with funding from Garfield County, the commissioners should be taking the lead in supporting the proposed standards, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance argues in a letter presented to the commissioners on Monday.

“Air testing during oil and gas extraction has shown that benzene and seven other known air toxins are produced along with the oil and gas,” GVCA President Leslie Robinson wrote in the letter.

Studies such as the Battlement Mesa Health Impact Assessment and the county’s own ongoing air monitoring program have supported that evidence, Robinson maintained.

“Therefore, members of the Grand Valley Citizen Alliance are disappointed that the Garfield County commissioners have come out in opposition to the application of the proposed air-quality regulations on the Western Slope,” she wrote. “In our opinion, you seemed to have ignored the scientific studies you have commissioned.”

Earlier this month, Garfield County submitted a pre-hearing statement to the AQCC suggesting that, because Garfield and other Western Slope counties currently don’t exceed federal ozone standards, tighter air regulations may not be needed here in the way that they are on the Front Range.

Other area counties and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association have taken a similar position, although many energy companies have said they support the proposed new rules.

GVCA member Bob Arrington, who appeared with Robinson before the commissioners Monday, said the county’s position isn’t supported by the facts.

“Anyone with basic knowledge of airflow knows that it doesn’t respect political boundaries,” Arrington said.

Just because Garfield County may not have as much of an ozone problem now, oil and gas operations here are impacting air quality statewide, he said.

Industry would benefit from measures to control methane leaks, by putting escaping gas back into the production system, Arrington said.

“Bottom line, every Coloradan should be free to have clean air to breath,” he said.

The GVCA points out that, even though federal air standards aren’t currently being exceeded in Garfield County, “tests show we are trending that way.”

The current federal standard for ozone emissions is 75 parts per billion over three years, although the EPA is considering lowering that to 65 parts per billion, same as Canada, Arrington said.

“Records show ozone levels in Rifle have been in the 60 to 70 parts per billion range, with spikes as high as 90 parts per billion,” the GVCA states in its letters. “The three-year average for ground level ozone in Rifle is already at 65 parts per billion. This is too high, we believe.”

Ground-level ozone in particular, which is caused in part by volatile organic compounds emitted by the oil and gas industry, can cause breathing problems, especially for the elderly, children and people with heart or respiratory problems, the GVCA also points out in its letter.

The GVCA and a coalition of other citizen groups around the state are calling for even stricter standards for oil and gas facilities that are located within one-quarter-mile of homes, schools and places where people gather.

The draft regulations currently before the AQCC call for chemical leaks to be repaired within five to 15 days, for instance.

“We believe that if a major leak is discovered near a home or school, it should be repaired within hours, not days,” the GVCA advised the commissioners in its letter.

County commissioners did not respond directly to the group’s comments, but said they would consider them before issuing a final position statement to the AQCC next month. The commission has scheduled a formal public hearing on the proposed new rules Feb. 19-21 in Aurora.