State takes major step to clean up Colorado’s blue skies

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n Colorado, air is an asset. People move here, stay here and vacation here to behold our blue skies, feel our winds at their faces and breathe our mountain air.

On Sunday, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission took a major step to protect that asset from smog and climate pollution created by leaky oil and gas operations. The commission passed landmark new protections proposed and supported by Governor John Hickenlooper, three energy companies and conservation organizations led by the Environmental Defense Fund. The rules make Colorado a leader in protecting air quality by tightening existing air controls and, for the first time, targeting additional sources of pollution emissions associated with oil and gas development — including methane and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), pollutants that contribute to the creation of smog and ozone.

These pollutants impact the health of citizens throughout Colorado. Doctors, nurses and health officials have been at the forefront of championing new rules.

The process to develop protections began months ago, with draft rules being released in November of last year. Some in the oil and gas industry proposed to weaken inspection requirements by, for example, applying the rules only to the Front Range — leaving the West Slope exposed to the risks posed by these pollutants. But those efforts were turned down Sunday by the commission which, after hours of deliberation, adopted the measures largely as drafted. Citing the overwhelming public support from citizens for statewide safeguards and the need for strong enforcement, the commission moved forward with the new standards by a vote of 8-1.

What this means is that Colorado will now be the will be the first state to:

– directly target methane reductions

– require Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) on all wells statewide to control leaking equipment and “fugitive” methane and VOC emissions

– enact proactive measures to avoid venting during well maintenance activities

– retrofit all valves used on well sites to control leaks during routine operations,

– and require be the first state to require existing storage tanks to comply with pollution limits which currently only apply to new tanks under federal law.

Some have said these rules are not enough. It’s true that there’s room for progress minimizing impacts to our changing climate and reducing ozone pollution statewide. Our work is not done merely because these rules are now law.

But the importance of strong air quality protections cannot be understated. In communities on both the Front Range and Western Slope, increased local regulations such as bans and moratoriums on oil and gas development face uphill political battles and are unlikely to gain traction. Ensuring state action on crucial issues – particularly air quality, which does not heed political boundaries — matters for all of our state, especially communities that otherwise would be left behind.

For now, there’s reason to celebrate. Gov. Hickenlooper and responsible business leaders such as Anadarko, Encana, and Nobel Energy deserve credit for coming together with conservation groups to leave Colorado a cleaner and safer environment. Kudos to the Governor and Colorado Air Quality Control Commission for taking this huge step protecting one of Colorado’s greatest assets.

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