Rodger Steen: Cleaner air for Colorado

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Many of you will have seen the initial articles about updated air emission rules for oil and gas development in Colorado, passed as of Sunday. The real story is that all of Colorado, but especially the Western Slope, won big, and Routt County and Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley played an integral part in the groundwork for that win.

The EPA had promulgated tighter emission standards for new oil and gas production facilities in October 2012, and these were incorporated in the Colorado rules. Beyond that, Colorado has established an even better rule by applying those standards to existing production sites and has built a strong monitoring requirement to ensure strict compliance with those new rules. Effective compliance monitoring especially is needed for oil and gas production wells because leaks of pollution are so difficult to detect without special equipment, and there are many valves, hatches and joints susceptible to leaking.

These new rules were needed on the East Slope because of the ozone non-attainment conditions (concentrations above the health standard) existing there. The big win for the West Slope is that those same requirements also will apply to the West Slope to protect our currently clean air. Previously, the West Slope industry was exempted from the special East Slope air emission rules.

Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley and Western Colorado Congress pushed for two other improvements. The first was to have more transparency with the compliance monitoring, and we asked that all compliance records be posted to the Internet. This did not become part of the new rules, but it is imbedded in the rule “Statement of Basis,” which is guidance for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to begin the transition to posting the compliance monitoring records on the Internet. Secondly, we pushed for tighter emission requirements for wells within a quarter-mile of residences and public buildings, which is an issue in Weld County but not yet in Northwest Colorado. This also was included in the “Statement of Basis,” a goal for the Department of Public Health and Environment to work toward.

Colorado won not just because of the more up-to-date emission and compliance monitoring requirements that will result in much lower emissions, but equally important because we got here through collaboration among industry, the Department of Public Health and Environment and environmental groups. The industry agreed that these new requirements were reasonable, technologically feasible and environmentally responsible. There were some members of industry — largely stuck in a 1980s operating mentality — that fought the proposals, and some environmental groups that wanted much more, but the final rules represent reasoned compromise.

Your Routt County commissioners were instrumental in these wins for all of us by including strong environmental limits in the production site special-use permits that they issue, beginning in 2012 and continuing to the present. These local requirements drew strong criticism from the oil and gas trade organization, COGA and even Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission with the charge of meddling in their responsibilities. But the message was clear to the CDPHE, COGCC and industry that West Slope counties care about our environment and will resist unnecessary air emissions.  

If it is cost-effective to meet the new and tighter emission requirements on the East Slope, then it also is cost-effective to meet them on the West Slope. Several industry players (Shell was the first in Routt County) realized that it was time to become more a part of the communities within which they operate and become more environmentally responsible. Other operators joined the movement in the past two years, and here we are today with well-conceived and strong oil and gas air regulations throughout Colorado.

Rodger Steen

Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley

Comments

Ken Collins 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Great news. I commend our Commissioners for their work. Fracking is here to stay. If it further hurries the change over from coal, all the better. But we have to keep tight regulations on the drilling and maintaining of the wells. Too many wells are too close to developments, streams and also in water starved areas. People need to be informed of what fracking a well totally involves, i.e. noise, truck trips, odors, methane leaks, etc. That check from the oil company looks good at first, but if you lose your water through contamination, the check is not worth much. Coal v. natural gas is a easy one. But at the same time, alternative energies need to be promoted. There will come a time when fossil fuels will be the death of us if we don't pursue other methods.

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Scott Wedel 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I think a critical aspect of this decision is that it was supported by several large drillers as being the responsible direction for the industry. Thus, it is not a situation of an environmental agency setting unreasonable standards for an industry already doing a good job. The drillers that do a good job supported the new rules.

The drillers that are willing to have leaks and don't want to spend money to fix the leaks were the ones opposed. I doubt the general public has much sympathy for them. Particularly since areas with many wells now have air pollution issues from the wells that leak.

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Fred Duckels 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Scott, listen up! The logic that you are attempting to display is bunk. 1. There is no proof that any company will do a better job regardless of size. 2. Willingness to support or reject this proposal does not prove that a company is good or bad. 3. Support by larger companies may be to restrict competition. 4 Suppose that Shell has a problem, they are very capable of defending themselves and in the end I suspect that they will not be intimidated. Try suing a large corporation and see how far you get. 5 A small company will be less likely to welcome the changes as they are not as likely able to afford the entanglement. They might well be more likely to perform remedial work but that does not give the politicos the certificate desired and the chance to take the bows.

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Scott Wedel 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Fred,

So you think the plan is for the big companies to violate the air standards, but to use their lawyers to avoid punishment while the small guys get punished?

Maybe, but that would be taking a huge financial risk because Colorado could elect some liberal Attorney General seeking to make a name for himself suing the big violators.

Seems more likely that the new standards are tolerable and the drillers that plan for being it in for the long haul see that the issue of leaking gas causing air pollution is going to be fixed regardless. And if the state doesn't act then the EPA will and the drillers could end up with far more expensive EPA regulations.

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Steve Lewis 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Great job Rodger. Thanks. Also another thanks to Nancy Stahoviak. She did great work as Routt County, on behalf of domestic water wells around Milner, faced incredible pressure from Quicksilver Resources AND the State of Colorado, in the Spring of 2012.

Good to see the State is now bringing better standards of practice to Colorado.

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Karl Koehler 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Pssst. Shell's gone. They left. Now I'm no expert but it looks to me like they collaborated with environmental groups like CAYV and WCC to effectively raise production standards and environmental compliance costs, and then, left. Now why would they do that? Hmm.

And I remember the 1980's. Wasn't that the prosperous period when taxes were cut, GDP growth was strong and sustained, unemployment fell as 20 million new jobs were created, inflation was reversed and the foundation for the longest peacetime economic expansion we'd seen occurred? The one that carried the nation's economy clear into and through the Clinton administrations? The one that not coincidentally was built under the leadership of the last real conservative we've seen in the office of the President? Yeah. I remember that.

But I will agree with a particular perspective CAYV highlighted during their air quality protection campaign. And that is that we are fortunate to enjoy very clean air right here in Routt County, some of the cleanest in the nation.

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