Agency: Oil, gas rules will bring ‘historic’ pollution improvements
The deputy director of the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division said Thursday that proposed new oil and gas regulations would achieve significant pollution reductions at a reasonable cost.
Garry Kaufman told the Air Quality Control Commission the proposal is expected to reduce volatile organic compounds by 94,000 tons per year at a cost of about $460 a ton, and 64,000 tons of methane and ethane a year for about $660 a ton.
“This really and truly is a historic reduction in emissions in Colorado and also is an extremely cost-effective set of regulations for the state,” he said. ” … Compared to anything else that we can do, we’re not going to find these kinds of reductions at these kinds of costs,” he said.
But John Jacus, an attorney representing several energy companies and industry groups, said that, in fact, the rules would have a high cost with a diminished benefit, which reflects how much companies already have done to reduce emissions.
“The low-hanging fruit has been picked and the law of diminishing returns has firmly taken hold,” he said.
The comments came as the commission entered the second day of a hearing to consider the proposed new rules. On Wednesday far more than 100 members of the public testified, with the majority speaking in favor of the proposal or calling for strengthening them.
The regulations under consideration are the result of negotiations between the state, the Environmental Defense Fund and three energy companies, Encana, Noble Energy and Anadarko Petroleum. They include a proposal to specifically target methane, a greenhouse gas, for regulation, which would make Colorado the first state to do so in oil and gas rules.
Kaufman said oil and gas is the largest source of manmade volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions in Colorado, and it’s reasonable to address those in trying to reduce ozone problems in the state. The rules would result in close to a 25 percent reduction in total manmade VOC emissions in Colorado, he said. Those emissions, which include toxins such as benzene and toluene, also come from sources such as automobile traffic.
Kaufman also noted that the state Legislature has passed a measure to promote use of natural gas rather than coal in power plants to address climate change, and to reap those benefits it makes sense to reduce methane emissions during gas production.
“Climate change is a global problem. It really doesn’t matter whether the emissions are happening in Denver or Garfield County or in the San Juan Basin, reducing those emissions is a good thing. You get the same benefits regardless of where you reduce them,” Kaufman said.
Some within the industry, and some western Colorado counties including Garfield and Mesa counties, have questioned the statewide reach of proposed rules, when Colorado’s ozone problem largely is limited to the Front Range.
Tammy Thompson, a research scientist at Colorado State University, said pollution emitted in the western part of the state likely ends up in Rocky Mountain National Park, where ozone can damage plants.
“We’re seeing a large influence from the western part of Colorado,” she said.
But atmospheric scientist James Wilkinson said there’s no evidence to suggest VOC emission controls outside areas in violation of ozone standards produce benefits for those areas. He also said the state may be overestimating VOC emissions related to oil and gas operations, as well as the effect of those emissions on ozone levels.
One area in western Colorado, Rangely, has been dealing with wintertime ozone levels that are above federal standards, and are thought to be largely a result of oil and gas development occurring mostly to the west in Utah.
Wilkinson described that as a “unique,” wintertime-rather-than-summertime situation, and one that researchers are still seeking to better understand.
Some citizen groups have called for stronger rules for oil and gas facilities close to homes. Kaufman said he thinks the effort to pass rules addressing ozone and climate change also address local emissions in the process. But he also acknowledged a lack of research into emissions close to homes.
“Frankly I think there’s more study that needs to be done about what exactly the impacts are,” he said, adding that the results of such studies could indicate what further regulations might be needed.
He said there’s “generally a pretty broad consensus for this proposal,” and that the three companies that helped develop the rules will bear about 75 percent of the cost of compliance.
Said Brian Lockard of Noble Energy, “We do believe they provide an enhanced air quality benefit at a manageable cost.”