Colorado eyes tougher air pollution standards for drillers | AspenTimes.com

Colorado eyes tougher air pollution standards for drillers

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The state will be looking at tougher air pollution limits for oil and gas development, and an advocacy group says changes can’t come fast enough for places such as Garfield County.

Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division plans to consider building on rules that were approved last December. The division’s deputy director, Mike Silverstein, said the agency will look at increased restrictions statewide.

Jeremy Nichols, director of Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, said it’s important to do more to control emissions in Garfield County, which is leading the state in drilling activity. Last December’s rules included greater restrictions on the Front Range than for the rest of the state, in response to ozone problems there that are being exacerbated by oil and gas development in Weld County.

“Garfield is on track to become the next Weld County. What happened to Denver could happen to Garfield County. Just sit back and watch,” Nichols said.

Silverstein said it’s not that Western Slope air quality is unimportant to the state.

“The need is greater in the Front Range because of the ozone standards,” he said.

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He said the division is assessing the oil and gas industry to look for additional air quality improvements that can be made statewide. In December, it plans to begin a stakeholder process that would consider a list of possible options.

One would apply stricter, statewide emission restrictions on existing industrial engines associated with oil and gas development, he said. The state last year instituted the restrictions on new engines and those relocated from out of state, but it applied the rules to existing engines only on the Front Range because of its ozone problems, Silverstein said.

Last year’s new rules also required control devices on condensate tanks that emit more than 20 tons of volatile organic compounds per year. However, it imposed tougher rules on the Front Range, requiring companies to eliminate an average of 75 percent of emissions from all their condensate tanks combined. Nichols would like to see the Front Range requirement made statewide.

The statewide tank requirements don’t take effect until next May because it was most urgent to address the Front Range ozone problems, and a more immediate statewide rule would have made it hard for companies to obtain the equipment and manpower to comply, Silverstein said. However, he said a lot of companies went ahead with compliance this summer to avoid having to do the work over the winter.

New statewide rules applying to glycol dehydrators used by the industry also go into effect in May, and will require a 90 percent cut in emissions.

Rick Matar, an air quality practice manager for Williams Production RMT, Garfield County’s largest natural gas producer, said Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action is pushing for new restrictions on the industry without knowing how much it contributes to the state’s air pollution problem. Other sources, such as cars and power plants, are major contributors, Matar said.

He said he supports the Air Pollution Control Division in its desire not to act too quickly in imposing new rules on the oil and gas industry, before there’s more information available on its impact on air quality. Silverstein said the division is awaiting a report from the industry on emissions the state doesn’t currently quantify, such as from well completions. He said it should be getting new information during the first half of next year.

Nichols doesn’t see a need for the state to wait to act.

“Right now we do feel like we have enough information to do something,” he said.

Said Matar, “Industry has been very conscious of all of these issues and has taken steps to do more than current regulations require, really.”

He said the industry participated in Gov. Bill Ritter’s climate action planning process. Matar believes the industry can achieve the plan’s goal of reducing the greenhouse gases it contributes by 35 percent between 2004 and 2020.

Nichols praised Williams for its work in areas such as so-called “green” well completions, which go far to cut emissions. “But what about all the other producers?” he asked.

But Matar said such efforts aren’t always practical. They can be easier for larger companies working in areas where they have infrastructure in place and can justify the extra investment because they have reason to believe most every well that is drilled will be productive.