More than 60 people from across the Western Slope gathered Tuesday night to share their concerns about air quality and the oil and gas industry. Some asked the state to adopt rules for more frequent inspections to prevent leakage of hydrocarbons and curb emissions, and to apply more stringent air-quality rules that were adopted for the Front Range last year to the rest of Colorado. Others said the industry doesn't need more regulation and has enough financial incentive to reduce leaks and emissions already.
Roughly a year ago, the state Air Quality Control Commission revised emissions rules but didn't apply them to the entire state. Instead, the commission asked staff to hold meetings with stakeholders and the public and provide a recommendation on possible ways to reduce emissions, with or without new regulations.
During Tuesday's meeting at the Central Library, many comments focused on more frequent inspections of gas operations over the lifespan of wells, to find leaks and fix them.
"Let's focus on eliminating wasted gas at the source," said Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman of Aspen, who called for strong emissions regulations to be in place as the Western Slope's population grows.
"The technology is there to capture this methane and it's cost-effective," said Gabriel Otero, who grew up in Fruita, worked in the oil and gas industry and is now the Wilderness Society's Colorado Plateau representative. He urged the commission to consider rules that would require leak detection and repair testing of every well once a year. "It's just kind of common sense," he said.
Jennifer Moore, who lives in Garfield County, urged state officials not to trust the industry to police itself.
At least seven attendees were connected with the oil and gas industry, though only two spoke publicly, including Quintin Shear, president of Shear, Inc., who said it behooves the business to not waste a valuable product and avoid losses due to leakage.
"We don't waste methane," he said. "That is what we sell."
Eric Carlson, the Western Slope director of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said substantial further analysis needs to be done, and that the industry group is looking at leak detection data now. Carlson said he expects results to be shared at a stakeholder meeting Dec. 12.
Some participants voiced their dismay that the information-gathering process only considers hydrocarbon emissions, not the possible health effects of those emissions.
Ken Scissors, a Grand Junction physician, said he's concerned about the health effects he sees during times when the valley has poor air quality. He's a member of the Citizens for Clean Air, a group that took steps to more closely monitor air quality and collect data from multiple sources across the valley and installed air-quality monitoring stations through purpleair.com last April.
"When we have bad air quality days, we have bad health days," he said. Scissors urged residents to not think pollution levels are necessarily "safe" if they are below a certain level deemed to be compliant with regulations, particularly the thresholds for ozone and particulate levels.
"That is a political compromise," he said. "That doesn't mean 60 (parts per million of ozone levels) is safe. We're talking about how much poison is in the air."
Representatives from the state agency told attendees the process wouldn't necessarily produce any new regulations, as they were directed to gather information from the public and stakeholders without any official rulemaking proceedings.
But Leah Martland, an environmental protection specialist with the state's air pollution control division, told the group she was optimistic that the process would yield "unique and collaborative" results.
Recommendations will be made to the state air quality control commission by January 2020, though an initial update will also be provided in January 2019.
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Editor's note: The original version of this story has been changed to clarify Scissors' comments.