New rules to speed up reductions in oil and gas emissions in Colorado OK’d

Colorado air regulators have adopted a broad set of rules to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations, including a controversial program, the first in the country, giving the industry more leeway to determine how Reduce the pollution.

The “intensity program”, under which operators will have to reduce emissions by percentages determined by the amount of oil and gas they produce, has been strongly supported by industry and opposed by environmental groups. concerned, it would be ineffective.

Environmental and community groups have pushed for regulations to increase inspections and reduce emissions from specific operations such as unloading liquids and cleaning pipelines.

The regulations were adopted by the state’s Air Quality Control Board on Friday to help meet Colorado’s legal requirements to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels of 26 % by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

“It definitely brings us closer to where we want to be, but there is still a long way to go,” said Joro Walker, lawyer for environmental group Western Resource Advocates.

Industry representatives welcomed the adoption of the intensity program and deplored some of the other provisions adopted by the AQCC.

“The commission’s adoption of an emissions intensity program, the centerpiece of this regulation, is the first of its kind at the state level and allows operators the flexibility to reduce emissions in a proactive and innovative manner. , rather than through top-down mandates, ”said Lynn Granger. , executive director of API Colorado, an industry trading group.

Mandatory programs, such as inspections and performance tests, will be expensive, Dan Haley, CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group, said in a statement.

The Air Pollution Control Division, which drafted the rules, estimated that the set of eight new regulations – which will be phased in, some coming into effect next February and others not until 2023 – will cost industry a total of $ 59 million to $ 142 million.

“Colorado cannot solve global climate change alone and certainly not by forcing a single industry to meet arbitrary resource reduction targets that the Colorados will rely on for decades to come,” Haley said.

Since 2014, the oil and gas industry has been the subject of eight sets of AQCC regulations aimed at reducing emissions from pollution sources such as reservoirs, gas pipes and control devices.

The aim of regulation, said Commissioner Elise Jones, “is to reduce methane emissions, not to vilify the oil and gas industry.”

The oil and gas industry is the third largest source of greenhouse gases in Colorado after transportation and power generation.

The main greenhouse gas emitted by oil and gas operations is methane, which is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, but which has a shorter lifespan in the gas. atmosphere. The oil and gas sector is responsible for 60% of all methane emitted in the state, according to state air pollution regulators.

As part of the state’s roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas pollution, the oil and gas sector must reduce its emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2025 and by 2025. 60% by 2030. The industry is already on track to achieve its 2025 target.

To meet the 2030 target, the APCD has calculated that the industry must reduce methane emissions by 140,000 metric tonnes per year.

The largest share – 64,000 metric tonnes or 46% – would come from the increased inspection and repair program.

Under the new rules, wells producing more than 20 tonnes of oil equivalent per year (a measure of oil and gas) will be inspected monthly, as will sites located near disproportionately affected communities, such as neighborhoods. low income and operations within 1,000 feet of occupancy. areas.

Many more well sites will be inspected on bi-monthly to quarterly schedules, but every well site in the state will be inspected at least once a year.

“There are increased protections for disproportionately affected communities and people living near oil and gas activities and now 12,000 smaller but leak-prone wells will be inspected,” said Matt Garrington, campaign manager for State for the Environmental Defense Fund, which has pushed for more frequent inspections. .

Reduction targets set according to production

The next largest cut – 55,000 tonnes or 39% – would come from the Intensity Program, which sets an emission limit per 1,000 barrels of oil equivalent (defined as oil plus natural gas) produced. There would be a target for large operators and a less restrictive target for small operators.

The APCD added even stricter standards for well emissions than the large operator’s standard for new wells and wells operated in disproportionately affected communities – those where at least 40% of households are in low income, people of color, burdened by housing costs or have suffered from a history of environmental racism.

“The intensity program will really push the industry to show what it can do,” said Commissioner Martha Rudolph.

Environmental and community groups, as well as some local officials, have expressed concern that the intensity schedule could be manipulated and that it would be difficult to verify emission inventories for each operation and emission reductions. .

“It all comes down to checking and inventories and if there’s one thing we’re concerned about, it’s this one,” Jones said. “This thing will succeed or fail depending on how we measure it.”

Oil and gas companies are expected to file their intensity plans in 2022, but it will still be at least a year before the standard for evaluating those plans is in place.

The Air Pollution Control Division will spend the next year working on aerial surveys of emissions it conducted this summer and working with stakeholder groups to develop the best data to show that emission reductions are achieved, said Robyn Wille, director of strategy for the division, in an interview.

The division is expected to submit a proposal for a reporting and verification rule to the AQCC in 2023. “We aim for transparency and accuracy,” Wille said.

The third most significant reduction is expected to come from rules to limit emissions from pigging and purging operations, cleaning techniques and pipeline maintenance. The reductions are estimated at 9,600 metric tonnes per year, or 7% of the total reduction in emissions required for the sector.

The rules apply statewide. “In the past, the West Slope was treated differently from the Front Range and we went to great lengths to have the regulations consistent across the state and we got it,” said Rodger Steen, chairman of the petroleum committee. and gas from the Western Colorado Alliance. “The citizens have achieved a great victory with these regulations. “

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