Colorado regulators have given preliminary approval to a rule change that would make it the first Lower 48 state to prohibit routine venting and flaring of natural gas by upstream operators.*

Emissions

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) last week voted 5-0 in favor of the Rule 903 changes, which are to go before the commission for a final vote on Nov. 20.

Colorado Oil and Gas Association President Dan Haley, whose group represents most of the state’s producers, said the rule change is unnecessary as flaring and venting is minimal.

“The national average for venting and flaring in oil and natural gas producing states is 4.75%, but Colorado operators are 24 times below that national average,” said Haley. He added that operators in the state flared or vented only 0.2% of natural gas production in 2019.

“That’s incredibly low and one of the many reasons Colorado oil and gas emissions continue to fall…We are producing some of the cleanest molecules on the planet right here in Colorado and believe strongly that local production is the best choice for our environment and our economy.”

Colorado’s oil production grew nearly six-fold between 2009 and 2019 amid the advent of horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracturing, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The state has since pursued some of the nation’s toughest environmental regulations for oil and gas companies under the framework of Senate Bill 181, which Gov. Jared Polis signed into law last year.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) estimated that Colorado producers waste nearly $12 million worth of natural gas annually through venting and flaring.

“With this rule, Colorado becomes the model for other jurisdictions looking to end routine flaring as communities, investors and leading companies demand action,” said EDF’s Dan Grossman, senior director of state advocacy.

Grossman noted that regulators in producing states such as New Mexico and Texas are under growing pressure from investors and companies to end routine flaring.

Texas regulators last week approved rules requiring operators to provide a reason for why they need to vent or flare gas, but stopped short of imposing more stringent rules.

A recent EDF study found that more than one out of every 10 flares in Texas was either unlit or only partially burning the gas released, resulting in “stubbornly high” emissions of uncombusted methane.

New Mexico regulators in June published draft rules aimed at curbing methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations. The Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) said the rules were the state’s “first comprehensive methane regulations,” which propose 98% gas capture by the end of 2026.

Meanwhile, investors with more than $102 billion in assets under management recently called on New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state environmental regulators to strengthen the draft regulations, citing public health and environmental risks. 

In a letter sent by more than 40 investors, Lujan Grisham was praised for her commitment to tackle the climate crisis by cutting methane pollution. However, they said the EMNRD and New Mexico Environment Department should strengthen their draft rules, including closing loopholes that would allow 95% of oil and gas wells to go unchecked.

*Correction — An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Colorado would be the first state to implement a ban. However, Alaska already bans routine flaring and venting. NGI’s Shale Daily regrets the error.