Gas-well emissions

As a state long familiar with the natural-gas and oil industry – its benefits and less positive impacts – Colorado is, in many ways, a leader in developing rules by which gas-and-oil exploration and drilling are governed. This has not necessarily been a smooth process, and bringing the regulatory environment into proper balance such that gas and oil can be extracted without undue damage to public health, surface owners or environmental resources is a perpetual work in progress. Nevertheless, the state takes the matter seriously and a proposed rulemaking to address gas-and-oil well emissions demonstrates its ongoing commitment to improving how the industry operates here.

The Air Quality Control Commission is considering this week a series of rules that would address emissions – primarily of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas – from well sites in Colorado. Doing so, through rules that include monthly monitoring of well sites, pipelines and storage tanks using infrared cameras, retrofitting aging, leaky equipment and requiring companies to capture leaking gas, will improve air quality, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and allow gas-and-oil companies to bring more of the resource they are capturing to market. The rules are wholly beneficial.

That sentiment is shared by the state’s largest gas-and-oil industry operators, environmentalists and many lawmakers alike. By adopting the rules, Colorado would lead the nation in setting expectations around drilling-related methane pollution – a problem so significant that a recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, finds it counteracts the positive effects of using natural gas to fuel vehicles. Doing so provides the industry with clear guidelines about how it must operate, with the added bonus of forcing producers to capture more of the gas they are harvesting.

Some smaller gas-and-oil companies, as well as a few lawmakers, are balking at the rules, saying the requirements will be too costly for companies to implement profitably or should be considered according to community. Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, took issue with the notion that methane-gas emissions are a problem. “I hope this commission won’t be swayed by the flat-earthers here today arguing for a one-size-fits-all air standard. This attempt to punish rural Colorado for the traffic congestion and smog in Denver and Boulder is part and parcel of a wider war that’s being waged against rural Colorado,” Brophy told the commission.

Brophy’s words, though impassioned, do not take into account the data demonstrating methane emissions problems at Colorado drilling sites and elsewhere, nor the related health problems, including increased incidents of asthma. Nor does he consider the evidence showing that drilling-related methane emissions – 30 times stronger than carbon dioxide, according to The New York Times – are contributing significantly to climate change.

By those numbers alone, minimizing methane leaks should be part of the regulatory framework guiding natural gas production. It is in the best interest of the industry and those who live near gas-and-oil production and storage facilities. Doing so can further minimize the environmental and public-health impacts of natural gas, making it an even more desirable alternative to traditional fossil fuels. The Air Quality Control Commission should approve the rule changes proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper and a diverse group of supporters.

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