The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a rule requiring oil and gas operators to install zero-emissions devices to new and existing operations.
Older pneumatic controllers rely on pressurized natural gas to open and close valves that regulate temperature and pressure at production facilities and well sites. In the process, the devices can emit methane and other pollutants.
Newer non-emitting devices, however, to reduce emissions are available to reduce leaks from methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.
“This agreement among industry and conservation groups will allow for the thoughtful reduction of emissions and the improvement of Colorado’s air quality, adding to the significant emission cuts that have taken place over the past few years,” Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said in a statement.
“The Colorado way is about putting differences aside and coming together to find solutions. We are grateful to the Air Quality Control Commission for swiftly adopting this joint proposal and hope this serves as a collaborative model from which all stakeholders can build upon in the future.”
The Environmental Defense Fund estimated that controllers across the country released more than 132,000 metric tons of methane in 2017, equivalent almost 1.9 million passenger vehicles.
The devices would help the state meet higher climate change standards set by Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic allies in the legislature who adopted House Bill 1261 in 2019 and the Greenhouse Gas Roadmap the governor's office released in January to reduce emissions by 60% by 2030.
Gov. Jared Polis has released a road map for reducing Colorado's greenhouse gas pollution by 90% before 2050.
Carbondale Trustee Erica Sparhawk, who is president of Colorado Communities for Climate Action, linked last year's record wildfire season to climate change as motivation to work together.
"This collaboration between local governments, environmental groups, and industry will mean less carbon pollution and cleaner, safer air," said the leader of the coalition, which includes 36 local governments. "It is a win for Coloradans all over the state."
Joey Bunch: "Colorado's abundant natural gas reserves offer us energy independence from foreign sources who aren’t really our friends. To boot, Coloradans use about a quarter of our natural gas, yielding a valuable cash crop."
The rule takes effect May 1 for new sites and by 2023 to retrofit existing facilities.
Lynn Granger, executive director of the American Petroleum Industry Colorado, said both sides wanted to make "real, lasting emission reductions for the people of Colorado” and the negotiations were "intensive and deeply substantive" and credited good-faith collaboration.
"Our industry remains firmly committed to demonstrable environmental progress, and today is an important milestone in that effort,” she said.
Dan Grossman, Rocky Mountain Regional Director for Environmental Defense Fund, said the state continues to lead nation in addressing methane emissions. The federal rule adopted by the Obama administration was based on Colorado's program, and Grossman hoped Thursday's decision would do that, as well.
“With broad support from industry and the environmental and public health community, the commission is setting the standard for other states and the U.S. EPA to follow in addressing pollution from new and existing sites using pneumatic devices,” he said.
Sara Rose Tannenbaum, the climate advocate for Conservation Colorado, called the new rule a common-sense precedent setter to cut methane emissions.