Colorado

Hickenlooper touts 'rigorous' new oil and gas rules

Gov. John Hickenlooper touts new rules for oil and gas activities during a Feb. 25 Capitol press conference, as Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Director Larry Wolk (right) and Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fun (center) listen. Photo by Vic Vela
By Vic Vela
Posted

Gov. John Hickenlooper was lauded by energy industry leaders and environmental groups on Feb. 25, two days after a state commission approved sweeping new air pollution rules that will regulate oil and gas activity in the state.

The new rules will make Colorado the first state to impose regulations designed to detect and reduce climate-harming methane emissions and puts in place other measures aimed at protecting the state's air.

"They are the strongest rules on air pollution ever adopted in the U.S.," said Fred Krupp, the national leader of the Environmental Defense Fund. "It is really a model for the nation."

The rules were approved following an 8-1 vote by the Colorado Air Quality Commission on Feb. 23. The adoption of the new oil and gas emission standards came as a result of Hickenlooper's calls for tougher rules aimed at protecting Colorado's air.

"I think a big part of this is so that Coloradans can know that we're going to have the cleanest air rules in the country; that these represent the most protective state regulations around the air that our families breathe," the governor said at a Capitol press conference.

Hickenlooper said he doesn't think anyone can question whether Colorado's environmental laws are the toughest in the nation, thanks to the new regulations.

"We have the most rigorous air and water regulations around oil and gas in the country, without question," he said. "I think that goes a long way toward demonstrating to people that this trio of the (environmental) nonprofits, the (oil and gas) industry, and the government, that if we work hard enough and are willing to make those compromises, we can make real progress."

Larry Wolk, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the adoption of the new regulations "truly are a significant achievement." Wolk said the new rules will reduce more than 92,000 tons of organic compound emissions annually. The VOC emissions contribute to "ground-level" ozone depletion and smog, which can lead to health affects such as increased asthma attacks and respiratory conditions.

The rules will also reduce 60,000 tons of methane emissions each year. The natural gas causes a greenhouse effect when it leaks into the atmosphere. The rules also target hydrocarbon emissions that also have ozone and climate change impacts.

Key to the regulations will be the installation of infrared cameras that will be used to detect air pollution at oil and gas sites.

The new rules are expected to take effect mid-April. However, Wolk said it will take several years to implement all aspects of the regulations.

The work in getting the regulations put in place made for strange bedfellows among environmental advocates and those in the energy industry.

"What this is about is smart and cost effective regulations," said Ted Brown of Noble Energy. "What this is about is making sure that oil and natural gas is developed in the safest way possible."

Not everyone is in love with the new rules. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association argued for softer regulations. However, COGA's Tisha Schuler, who attended the press conference, said her group is ready to move on.

"We did not get everything we wanted in this rule, but the rule passed so we're focused on moving forward," she said. "And we're going to emphasize how can we implement these rules cost effectively."

Hickenlooper also used the press conference to maintain his support of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Colorado.

Fracking has received a great deal of attention of late, with five cities in the state having placed some form of ban or limitations on the practice - the state is currently suing the city of Longmont over its voter-approved fracking ban.

And a potential November ballot initiative would ask Colorado voters to give municipalities the ability to decide for themselves what kinds of activities occur within city limits, including fracking.

The governor, who is a geologist, acknowledged the "friction" surrounding the fracking issue while voicing support of the practice.

"There is a group that wants to ban all hydrocarbons; they want to ban fracking," he said. "I think what we demonstrated (through the new rules) is that we're going to make the air cleaner than it was before fracking."

Hickenlooper talked about the often-contentious split estate issues, where dual property ownership can lead to "character of neighborhood versus the value of retirement" battles over residents' and mineral rights.

"These are closely held values that are hard to negotiate," he said. "But in the end, when they're in conflict, we've got to figure out how to negotiate and how to find a compromise."