State may become first to regulate methane in drilling

Colorado regulators will consider making the state the first in the nation to specifically target methane for detection and reduction in oil and gas operations.

Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the proposal today, and it is the product of talks between the Environmental Defense Fund and energy companies Encana, Noble Energy and Anadarko Petroleum. Its methane provisions target a substance considered more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

State officials say the proposal also would cut emissions of volatile organic compounds by about 92,000 tons per year, more than are produced by all cars in the state in a year. That would result in about a third less VOCs than were emitted in 2011 by the oil and gas industry, the leading source of manmade VOCs in the state.  VOCs contribute to smog and ill health; a VOC of particular concern, benzene, causes cancer.

The proposal grew out of the state Air Quality Control Commission’s stakeholder process in an advance of a new rulemaking on oil and gas emissions. On Thursday it’s scheduled to consider setting a public hearing on the proposal for next February.

“These proposed rules provide common-sense measures to help ensure Colorado has the cleanest and safest oil and gas industry in the country,” Hickenlooper said in a news release. “The rules will help Colorado prepare for anticipated growth in energy development, while protecting public health and the environment. They represent a significant step forward in addressing a wider range of emissions that before now have not been directly regulated.”

The Environmental Defense Fund says natural gas offers a carbon advantage over coal because it produces half the carbon dioxide of coal when burned.

“Tackling smog and climate pollution from the oil and gas sector is a critical part of making sure communities are protected and that the lower carbon advantage of natural gas doesn’t simply leak away,” Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a prepared statement.

The proposed rule would require use of infrared cameras and other means to detect leaks from tanks, pipelines and other drilling and production facilities; monthly inspections of large emission sources; more stringent limits on emissions from dehydrator units near homes; and incorporation statewide of existing emission-reduction rules now applying only in areas in violation of pollution standards.


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