Garfield County energy producers required to conduct leak detection, repair inspections more frequently
Operators of Garfield County’s gas production sites must begin to bolster safety measures, a new statewide rule adopted Friday by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission says.
The new statewide code requires oil and gas companies to conduct leak detection and repair inspections more frequently on any facilities within 1,000 feet of homes and schools in disproportionately impacted communities. The new rule also requires an increase in overall inspections for low-producing wells.
Matt Sura, an attorney for energy regulation advocacy group Western Colorado Alliance Oil and Gas Committee, said thousands of low-producing wells in Colorado haven’t been inspected since 2016.
Now, Colorado oil well operators that fall under this umbrella are required to use special cameras and other methods to conduct monthly inspections. Meanwhile, repairs are required whenever emissions leaks are discovered.
Battlement Mesa in Western Garfield County, a region consistently entrenched in oil and gas litigation due to production being close to residential zones, is legally considered a disproportionately impacted community. Following much debate, Colorado lawmakers agreed places like Battlement Mesa and Commerce City in the Denver Metro are “less prosperous and racially diverse.”
Western Colorado Alliance Oil and Gas Committee Chairperson Roger Steen praised the new rule, saying it’s critically important for Western Colorado.
“All wells need to be inspected for leaks and all people deserve protections from toxic emissions, no matter where they live,” he said in a Friday news release. “The rules protect people, keep our air clean, and reduce methane emissions to help us limit the impacts of climate change.”
Garfield County commissioners have over the years spent millions of dollars fighting oil and gas regulations. In response to 2019’s approval of Colorado Senate Bill 181, a statewide regulation that bars oil and gas production from within 2,000 feet of homes and schools, the commission has put at least $1.8 million from its $16 million oil and gas mitigation fund toward a coalition made up of 23 counties and municipalities that opposed the bill.
The Western and Rural Local Governments Coalition uses those funds on resources such as Denver-based attorneys and public relations agencies to combat oil and gas regulations.
Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, a strong advocate for oil and gas production, did not express total opposition to the AQCC’s new rule, saying he hopes it creates safer conditions. His main concern, however, is that it may further drive consumer prices up.
“Is your utility bill going to go up? Absolutely,” he said. “Companies already have so many fees attached to the bill, so the natural gas is going to pass on to the customer.”
While the new regulation aims to cut emissions, Garfield County still produces more than 500 billion cubic feet of gas annually. Two years ago, production saw more than 800 billion cubic feet of gas production, Martin said, and what once was at least 22 energy companies operating in the area has dropped down to about three.
The decline in production triggered a domino effect on local revenue. The county and its political subdivisions have seen at least 60% declines in revenue, Martin said. One example saw the Colorado River Fire Rescue district, a consortium of fire stations that cover an 851-square-mile area, close one of its stations, cut staff and sell apparatus to remain financially viable.
In November, district voters passed a property tax increase to help replenish at least $3 million in CRFR’s budget.
“The county’s political subdivisions, schools, hospital districts have lost 60% of its revenue in the last three years, so you’re talking a couple hundred million dollars, and it’s continuing to go down,” Martin said. “You’re going to see higher and higher property taxes based on the survival of these special districts, and it’s passed on to the landowner because there is no backfill.”
Healthy Air and Water Colorado Director Sabrina Pacha said doctors, researchers and public health officials agree that poor air quality is disastrous for health.
“I applaud the AQCC for taking action to implement direct regulations to curb harmful methane emissions,” she said in the Friday news release. “Climate change, and the consequences that come with it, is having a dire impact on our health today, and without decisive action we are on the path toward catastrophic public health impacts.”
Grand Valley Citizens Alliance Chairperson Leslie Robinson, who helped lead the charge against oil and gas production for Battlement Mesa, agreed the AQCC’s new regulation will help further protect the public from methane pollution.
“Everyone wants to breathe clean air free from pollution and industry should do the work to ensure people living next to these facilities are safe,” she said in the Friday news release. “These are common sense rules. People on the Western Slope deserve the same level of protection as people living on the Front Range.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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