Following Boulder County, CO, receiving an “F” in 2019 from the American Lung Association over harmful levels of ozone pollution, local government agencies plan to consider greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rules for the region’s oil and natural gas producers.

The hearing on Regulation No. 22 by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday (May 21-22) regarding stricter monitoring and reporting measures for exploration and production (E&P) companies.

The hearing may lead to the phasing out hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), a GHG emitted typically from refrigeration and cooling. Phasing out HFCs would include a prohibition on manufacturing and using the GHG in specific end-uses statewide.

Boulder’s Board of County Commissioners extended an existing moratorium on accepting and processing new oil and gas development applications and on seismic testing to July 31. The hearing next week would deal with proposing and implementing further regulations on GHG emissions released by E&Ps.

Boulder County’s analyses of E&Ps have raised concern about the impact on ozone pollution in the area that they create, as areas close to E&Ps show elevated levels of pollutants found in gasoline vapor and natural gas condensate. Colorado’s ozone monitor at the Boulder Reservoir frequently records ozone readings above federal ozone standards.

Because ozone is a lung irritant that exacerbates respiratory diseases, Boulder County concerns are heightened amid the coronavirus pandemic, said officials.

“According to analysis, 70-80% of the emissions that lead to ozone formation in Colorado’s nonattainment area come from background emission sources,” said CEO Dan Haley of the state’s top industry group, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “That includes biogenic emissions from the dead and dying organic matter in our expansive forests, as well as from emissions beyond our borders. Local human activity produces about 25% of the emissions that lead to our regional ozone issues.

“Colorado-based cars, trucks, boats, recreational vehicles, even our lawn equipment and household paints and products, join the oil and natural gas industry in that small portion of local sources. Our industry has worked hard to reduce its footprint, and we can claim significant success.” Local oil and natural gas volatile organic emissions “have dropped by more than 50% since 2011 and are projected to decrease even further.”

During high ozone days, COGA provides a variety of voluntary emissions reduction measures E&Ps may take to mitigate ozone pollution.

“Particulate matter and emissions from combustion sources have decreased while most people have stayed home to combat Covid-19, but overall ozone numbers have not decreased and actually track with historical, seasonal trends, further proving that local, human derived emissions are not the driving force behind our ozone challenges,” Haley said.

“Colorado has some of the toughest regulations on the books, particularly for air quality,” he noted. “The best thing regulators can do right now is to hold off on costly new regulations while our economy is struggling, and instead focus on the important work they already do to protect public health, safety, and environment.”