Routt commissioners: What’s good for Front Range oil, gas wells is good here, too | SteamboatToday.com

Routt commissioners: What’s good for Front Range oil, gas wells is good here, too

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners made it a point this week to say it is not in step with neighboring counties, including Moffat, that have asked the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to leave them out of proposed new rules meant to curtail air pollutants emitted in the region's oil and gas fields.

All three commissioners signed a letter to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission in late December indicating their support for statewide application of the new rules when they become formalized. However, five counties in Western Colorado have formed a coalition to resist enforcement of new air quality standards on the Western Slope.

The counties in the Energy Producing Attainment Counties said that although they support strong regulation of oil and gas operations, they think the enforcement in their counties is premature given a lack of science documenting a widespread air pollution problem.

They include Garfield, Mesa, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Montezuma (Cortez) counties, according to a Jan. 29 article in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

"We would not support changes that would distinguish between the rules to be applied in Routt County from those applied on the Front Range," the commissioners wrote in their Dec. 23 letter to the AQCC.

The AQCC met Wednesday in Aurora to finalize the new rules. They came about after Gov. John Hickenlooper called on energy companies to capture 95 percent of toxic gases and volatile organic compounds emitted by oil and gas equipment in the field. He had the support of some of the state's largest producers, including Encana, Anadarko and Noble Energy, in reaching that goal. But some smaller companies said it would be a hardship for them.

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The Denver Post reported Wednesday that about 100 people signed up to testify during the three days of testimony as the AQCC began the process of refining the language in the new regulations. The Post reported that the rules as proposed would require energy companies operating in the state to install valves and auto-igniters to minimize toxic gas emissions. They also would require the companies to use vapor recovery tanks, in some cases, to capture the gases.

The West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association has asserted that the new rules could create a financial hardship for natural gas producers in particular, who would be required to increase their inspections for leaking pollutants at widely spaced, remote well sites.

"We have heard that certain commissioners in certain areas that have a lot of wildcatters are receiving feedback coming from constituents, especially in relation to the hardship they would put on smaller energy exploration companies," Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said. "We believe this is a cost of doing business that everyone should be championing and not just certain companies."

Monger is the lone holdover on the Board of Commissioners from 2012 when Routt County heard energy exploration companies, and in particular, representatives of Quicksilver Resources, reacting to the desire of local officials to enforce their own groundwater quality monitoring requirements by saying it is imperative that regulations be uniform throughout the state. Now, Monger said, the same should be true for air quality regulations.

Commission Chairman Tim Corrigan agreed: "The industry wants consistent statewide rules; this just fits right into that.”

Commissioner Steve Ivancie said he was impressed that energy companies were playing a lead role in helping to write the new air quality regulations.

"We're lucky that our air quality is really good, and I want to make sure it remains that way," Ivancie said."It's very important that we deal with (gas emissions) right there at the source."

For Monger, to exempt the Western Slope from the new rules would be to acknowledge that it someday would be in the same situation that Eastern Colorado is in today in terms of having an air quality problem.

The commissioners hosted high ranking officials of the state Division of Air Quality Control here Jan. 31, 2012.

Gordon Pierce, technical services program manager for the Air Pollution Control Division of the Department of Health, told local officials that his agency was participating in a three-state study with Wyoming and Utah of ozone issues related to energy production.

Pierce's colleague, Kent Kuster, oil and gas liaison for the Colorado Department of Health's Division of Environmental Health and Sustainability, told Routt County officials at the time that he didn't think the Yampa Valley was at risk for the kind of ozone pollution seen in northeast Utah's Uintah Basin. However, Pierce added that an ozone monitoring device had recently been installed on a hill near Maybell, west of Craig.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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