John Colson: Colorado Air Quality Control Commission should expand ‘find and fix’ across state |

John Colson: Colorado Air Quality Control Commission should expand ‘find and fix’ across state

John Colson
Hith & Run

This is, in effect, an open letter to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, which held a series of public hearing around the state recently (the latest was Monday in Loveland), urging the AQCC to expand its methane-leak-detection regulations, or “find and fix” rules, to cover the entire state of Colorado.

For the record, the AQCC in 2017 adopted the leak-detection-repairing regulations for oil and gas operations in the eastern portion of the state, which is where the lion’s share of drilling and “fracking” for gas has been underway for about 15 years.

When those regulations were adopted, and following objections over the fact that they should have been statewide to begin with, the AQCC agreed to consider expanding the regulations to the Western Slope within two years.

That time is now, and the commission would do well to listen to those who attended the recent hearings and overwhelmingly supported greater regulation of the industry.

In fact, somewhat surprisingly, it appears that a healthy segment, perhaps a majority, of residents around the Western Slope are in support of seeing the rules expanded to this part of Colorado as a way of both safeguarding the region’s air quality, protecting the health and welfare of those living in what is known as the “gas patch” west of the Great Divide, and cutting back the volume of methane and other greenhouse gases that rise every day from the industry’s facilities and thus contribute to global warming.

I was unable to attend the hearing held in Rifle on Dec. 10, but have heard (from friends who were there) and read (in news accounts of the hearings in Rifle and in Durango on Dec. 11) that the pro-regulation crowd outnumbered those opposed to stricter rules by a factor of at least 3-to-1 (in Rifle) and by a far greater margin in Durango.

The AQCC, I should note, will be conducting meetings Tuesday and Wednesday in Denver to address the proposed regulations and either adopt them as written, reject them, or modify them for later adoption.

In remarks to the commission, Carbondale resident Allyn Harvey voiced support for what he described as “statewide semiannual leak detection and repair, (meaning) tank control requirements for low-producing wells statewide, expanding ‘find and fix’ requirements for pneumatic devices statewide, cutting emissions across the transmission sector, and developing a statewide inventory for methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure.”

Whew! That’s a lot to absorb, I know, but take your time, because this is important.

Harvey, a former journalist and Carbondale trustee, lately working as a public information consultant with the Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action, told the commissioners at the table that “it’s critical that the commission act boldly to cut methane emissions that accelerate the climate crisis (that is) leading to more drought, longer, more intense wildfire seasons and less snowpack (and) in order to protect the health of citizens.”

For more on what the citizens were telling the commission, check out the stories in the Durango Herald and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

I covered the Garfield County oil and gas industry from 2010 to 2014, working for the Post Independent, and saw first hand what the industry was doing to avoid government oversight, as well as what citizens were doing to try to hold the industry more accountable for damages it caused.

I also witnessed stories about people living in the gas patch whose lives were ruined, polluted beyond recall and in some cases ended by their exposure to fumes, spills and leaks from gas facilities.

Specifically, I wrote about one woman, Chris Mobaldi, who lived near Rifle from 1993 to 2003, just as the gas industry was hitting its stride. She died in 2010 due to a rare and persistent tumor on her pituitary gland, which first appeared in 2001 and later multiplied. Her husband and one doctor believed then that it was her proximity to the drilling operations that were at fault.

I also wrote about an industry worker whose job was to clean out the huge tanks that held chemical soups used in the hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) process, and who apparently died because he was working without the proper protective gear.

And I wrote about a group of guys who worked for a subcontractor to the industry in the Parachute area, who all complained that their jobs were making them sick.

One of the most interesting things about those stories was the lack of scientific studies about the health effects experienced by neighbors in the gas patch, which the industry regularly cited as proof that they were doing nothing harmful.

But the industry and its supporters in certain governments worked hard to suppress any scientific examination of their activities, until the need for studies overwhelmed the industry’s ability to stonewall.

These days, there are now scores of studies pointing to harmful effects from living near drilling rigs, leaky compressors and pipelines, and other facilities that regularly exhale huge quantities of methane and other deadly vapors.

So, the citizens demanding protection from these pernicious activities have a good point, and the AQCC should recognize that and act immediately to expand the “find and fix” regulation across the entire state.

I suspect there are many more aspects of the industry that need closer oversight and regulation, but getting this one thing done now would be a good start in the right direction.

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