State air-quality regulators on Thursday unanimously approved a consensus proposal between the oil and gas industry, conservationists and others to curb methane emissions from pneumatic controllers, including through a first-in-the-nation provision requiring companies to phase in retrofits of polluting controllers at existing facilities.
The Air Quality Control Commission approved the new regulations governing the controllers, which are used for controlling temperatures, managing pressure and liquid levels and other functions at oil and gas facilities. Conservation groups say some 100,000 pneumatic controllers are used statewide and they are the second largest source of methane emissions from oil and gas operations in the state.
The devices traditionally have relied on pressurized natural gas to activate valves, emitting methane in the process. But newer, non-emitting controllers are available, and the new rules require oil and gas companies to use non-emitting controllers that operate by means such as electricity or compressed air at new facilities, except in cases such as when safety is a concern.
The state Air Pollution Control Division staff had proposed the requirement for new facilities. But numerous stakeholders agreed on a broader alternative proposal, approved on Thursday, under which companies also must begin using non-emitting controllers at existing sites under a phased approach that encourages companies to target retrofitting at locations where methane emissions are highest first.
“The division didn’t put that forward. That came forth from the parties as a compromise so I applaud all of them,” said Air Quality Control Commission member Martha Rudolph.
Retrofitting also will be required at existing facilities when companies drill new wells or hydraulically fracture existing ones.
Groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, Conservation Colorado and the Western Colorado Alliance were involved in the negotiations, with industry participation/support from entities such as API Colorado, a division of the American Petroleum Institute; and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and West Slope COGA. The consensus proposal had widespread local government backing as well, ranging from Garfield County in western Colorado to Front Range communities such as Aurora and Denver.
“The stakeholder discussions surrounding pneumatic controllers have proven intensive and deeply substantive, but the collaborative and good-faith work across parties has led to a clear path forward for further emissions reductions in the state,” Lynn Granger, executive director of API Colorado, said in a news release Thursday. “Our industry remains firmly committed to demonstrable environmental progress, and today is an important milestone in that effort.”
The new rules help fight climate change because methane is a potent greenhouse gas, but also will reduce emissions of hazardous pollutants including volatile organic compounds that contribute to smog.
In 2014, the Air Quality Control Commission passed rules focused on leak detection and repair in order to curb methane emissions at oil and gas facilities. They were the nation’s first rules specifically targeting methane from oil and gas facilities.
“Colorado is once again leading the nation in addressing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry,” Dan Grossman, Rocky Mountain regional director for Environmental Defense Fund, said in a news release Thursday. “With broad support from industry and the environmental and public health community, the Commission is setting the standard for other states and the U.S. EPA to follow in addressing pollution from new and existing sites using pneumatic devices.”
The rules approved Thursday drew some concern, including from commission member Randy Ahrens, over a retrofit exemption applying to companies that have statewide oil and gas production averaging less than 15 barrels of oil equivalent per well. However, regulators expect to revisit whether to apply the retrofit requirement to those low-producing wells as soon as this fall.