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Colorado Proposes ‘Model’ Methane Emissions Rules

In collaboration with industry and conservation groups, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday unveiled plans for his state to become the first in the nation to propose regulations to detect and reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas drilling.

Methane emissions have increasingly been the subject of study and debate in recent years, including work ongoing in Colorado and Utah (see Daily GPI, Oct. 15;Aug. 6).

Crafted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (DPHE), the proposed rules are to be reviewed by the Air Quality Control Commission, which is expected to set a public hearing for February.

DPHE officials said they gathered input for the proposed rules from a diverse stakeholder group and would require, among other things:

  • Leak detection systems for tanks, pipelines and other drilling/production processes and compressor stations;
  • Instrument-based monthly inspections of large sources of emissions;
  • Timelines to repair leaks;
  • Emissions restrictions outside nonattainment areas; and
  • More stringent limits on emissions from dehydrator units near residential areas.

DPHE officials estimate that the rules would cut nearly 92,000 tons/year of volatile organic compounds (VOC) or 34%, based on a 2011 inventory. Oil and natural gas VOCs have been  measured at 275,000 tons annually.

Hickenlooper said the rules are  "commonsense measures" to help make the state's robust energy industry "the cleanest, safest in the country. The rules will help Colorado prepare for anticipated growth in energy development, while protecting public health and the environment."

Units of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Encana Corp., and Noble Energy Inc. -- three of Colorado’s biggest operators, jointly said they supported the proposed rules. "We all want clean air," they stated.

Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) spokesman Doug Flanders said the industry looked forward to reviewing the rules once they are circulated.

"The state went through an extensive rulemaking process three years ago with the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act, which had bipartisan support from industry and environmental groups, who all hailed natural gas as a the clean alternative moving forward," said Flanders. Because of more gas-fired generation, Colorado and the nation have seen a significant decrease” in greenhouse gas emissions.

The draft rules also would include elements to reduce methane emissions, while promising big reductions in VOC emissions, expected to reduce the incidence of asthma and other respiratory ailments.

The rules would complete the state's adoption of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission regulations.

Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said the rules would help ensure that "the lower carbon advantage of natural gas does not leak away. If this package is adopted, Coloradans will breathe easier." Krupp said the rules would serve as a "model for the nation."

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