Colorado seeks to regulate methane emissions

November 19, 2013

Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks to members of the media during a news conference at which he discussed the state’s new proposed standards for methane emissions and other heightened safeguards, at the state Capitol, in Denver, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013. The proposed rules would include a system of infrared cameras to speed detection of leaks from tanks and pipelines. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

Colorado would become the first state in the nation to closely monitor and regulate methane emissions associated with oil and gas drilling, under proposed rules hammered out with the cooperation of fossil fuel companies and environmental groups.

The proposed rules, announced Monday by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), would reduce the amount of methane and natural gas leaking into the air. They would require oil and gas drilling companies to closely monitor tanks and pipelines for leaks, and report monthly on large sources of methane emissions. Rules aimed at reducing emissions of pollutants would expand to include areas near wells, meaning cleaner air for residents.

The state also hopes to include new limits on emissions from dehydrator units near residential areas.

If the rules go into effect, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimates they would reduce volatile organic compound emissions by about 92,000 tons a year, an amount greater than the emissions from vehicles in Colorado. The department said that reduction would lead to related decreases in asthma cases.

The CDPHE negotiated the new rules with the Environmental Defense Fund and three oil and gas companies, Noble Energy, Encana and Anadarko, that operate wells around the state. The companies said in a joint statement that they support the draft.

“As citizens of Colorado, we all want clean air, and we support this joint proposal initiated by Gov. Hickenlooper,” the companies said. “This collaboration is a good model for developing effective regulations and activities to monitor, control and reduce methane leaks and VOCs.”

A spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute said the group hadn’t taken a position on the proposed regulations.

The new rules have to pass muster with the Air Quality Control Commission, which meets on Thursday. A public hearing is likely in February.

Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, called the rule-making process a “model for the nation. It shows that state officials, industry leaders and environmental groups can come together to develop win-win solutions that help square the need to protect local communities and the environment with the need for domestic energy production.”

Oil and gas industries have found a valuable home in Colorado. The state produced more than 40 million barrels of oil in 2012, according to the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the first time since 1962 they topped the 40-million mark.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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Reid Wilson · November 19, 2013