Stop methane leaks

No state has more experience with the benefits of capturing fugitive methane emissions from oil and gas operations than Colorado.

The state’s Air Quality Control Commission approved first-of-its-kind rules in February 2014 that have helped to improve air quality without placing an undue burden on the industry. Rules addressing methane leak detection and repair were developed in collaboration with state regulators, environmental groups and industry representatives.

The result? Levels of ozone-forming volatile organic compounds are down, gas producers are capturing a valuable commodity that mitigates the investment in leak detection and the taxpayers’ mineral estate isn’t being wasted. The rule squares up with best practices — which is exactly the experience with larger producers in Colorado. Regulators have received zero complaints since the state rule went into effect, Jon Goldstein of the Environmental Defense Fund told the Sentinel’s editorial board Tuesday.

The success of the state rulemaking led the Bureau of Land Management to undergo a similar effort to reduce waste of natural gas from venting, flaring and leaks during production activities on BLM-managed federal lands. The rule was finalized last November, but Republicans in Congress are threatening to roll it back using a legislative sledgehammer known as the Congressional Review Act.

The rarely used law allows Congress 60 legislative days from the time the rule is finalized to pass a joint resolution of disapproval. If signed by the president, the resolution not only nullifies the rule, it prohibits an agency from taking up similar regulations without congressional approval. If the methane rule is killed, it severely hampers any attempt for the BLM to address pollution and waste in the future.

Colorado’s congressional delegation should be leading on this issue, explaining to colleagues why a Colorado-style rule is needed on a nationwide basis. For one thing natural gas production is expected to increase 50 percent worldwide over the next 25 years. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with at least 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Much of this gas will be developed in countries with lax environmental regulations. With a methane rule in place, the U.S. can be a standard-bearer for responsible development and lead by example.

Without the rule, an estimated $330 million worth of gas on federal and tribal lands is going into the atmosphere every year. That’s millions in royalties that aren’t being collected to the detriment of cash-strapped local governments.

We’re fortunate to have the rule in Colorado. But if the federal rule isn’t enforced, the results can undermine our own gains. Air quality doesn’t recognize state lines. Underregulated drilling in Utah produces bad air that blows into Western Slope communities.

Supporters of the rule are targeting members of the U.S. Senate. The House vote to repeal the rule appears to be a foregone conclusion. That puts U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in a unique position to share Colorado’s experience with skeptical Republicans. He should tout the collaboration and positive results of the state rule as an example of common-sense regulation that can benefit producers, taxpayers and the environment.

Meanwhile, Rep. Scott Tipton has nothing to lose by supporting the methane rule. Producers in Colorado already make investments in air quality that aren’t required of producers elsewhere. Tipton’s support of the rule would level the field for producers in Colorado who are playing by a different set of rules.


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