Author Archives: Dan Grossman

North Dakota Steps Up to Curtail Wasteful Flaring, But Will it be Enough?

rp_NatlGasFlares_142558250_Photos-RF-300x197.jpgEveryone agrees that burning off as much as a third of the natural gas produced in North Dakota is a terrible waste of an important natural resource. The flaring problem arises out of the fact that energy companies are primarily drilling for oil in North Dakota.  A lot of natural gas comes out of those very same wells, though; and since the infrastructure isn’t in place to take that gas to market, companies end up flaring gas as a “waste” byproduct of oil production.

This isn’t a problem that can be fixed overnight.  Building the gathering systems, processing capacity and transmission pipelines to get this gas to market requires major planning and investment.  But we also have to recognize that in a capital-constrained world, the incentive is for companies to put their next dollar toward the next oil well – not toward lower-return (but still lucrative) investments in gas infrastructure.  If a company’s bottom line was all that mattered, that might be fine.  But we have other issues at play here.

Flaring natural gas undermines national energy security, has negative impacts on the region’s air quality, results in unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions and represents millions of dollars of lost revenue for the state, local governments, schools and mineral estate owners. In fact, in 2012 alone, flaring resulted in the waste of around $1 billion in fuel – or enough gas to heat more than a million homes.

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Critical Decision Expected Tomorrow in Colorado on Clean Air Rule

Day 4 of the ongoing hearings on a groundbreaking proposal to reduce air and climate pollution from oil and gas operations in Colorado saw Team EDF pushing back on claims opposition groups have made to try to weaken the proposal.

Leading companies Noble, Anadarko, Encana and DCP also put on strong cases, using their own operational data to show the proposal is cost effective. They should be lauded for their leadership, as should local governments and conservation groups that brought strong analytics to the hearings.

If the proposal is adopted without being weakened, it will eliminate more than 90,000 tons of smog-forming VOCs annually (the same amount produced by all the cars and trucks in Colorado) and more than 100,000 tons of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

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COGA and CPA Fight Common-sense Methane Regulation

Dan GrossmanIndustry trade groups – the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and the Colorado Petroleum Association (CPA) – came out swinging against methane regulation in the third day of hearings on a groundbreaking proposal to reduce air and climate pollution coming from oil and gas operations.

And some wild swinging it was!

They acknowledged that we need to reduce methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. But they said studies are showing different results about how much methane is being leaked and vented and that we shouldn't regulate methane until we know exactly how much is escaping.

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Arguments Heat Up in Colorado Air Rulemaking, But the Facts Remain

Yesterday, we covered the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) taking public testimony from citizens who traveled from around the state to speak in support of a groundbreaking proposal that would slash emissions of smog-forming pollutants and greenhouse gases coming from oil and gas activities.

Formal proceedings kicked off today – and will likely run through the weekend – with various parties presenting their opening cases. EDF went early in the day, providing strong evidence that the proposed rule is cost-effective and urgently needed to combat local air quality problems and climate change. We also highlighted some glaring flaws  in the methodology industry opponents cooked up to show inflated costs for the rules.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), the Colorado Petroleum Association (CPA) and the DGS group are throwing everything they can at the rule to try to gut it.  But they’re in a shrinking minority on the wrong side of history.

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Coloradans Overwhelmingly Voice Support for Proposed Air Regulations

Colorado is the quintessential swing state – with voters split about evenly between Republicans, Democrats and Independents.  That can make for some fractious politics at times, but our diversity is part of what makes us great.

What makes us even better is our unity – and that’s what we saw today when, by a margin of almost 10-to-1, Coloradans of all stripes called on the state’s Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to adopt new rules that would slash air and climate pollution coming from oil and gas development activities.

The AQCC opened its hearings on the proposed rules with a full day of citizen input, with people traveling from around the state (one drove six hours) to make their voices heard.  Residents from rural communities, including many from the Western Slope, stood up, one after another, to tell the AQCC Commissioners that the proposed rules should apply statewide and that the handful of local officials opposing the rules are out of step with the citizens they’re supposed to serve.  In response to those local officials, one citizen from Ridgway implored the Commission to protect all Colorado families and not “turn the West Slope into an air quality sacrifice zone.”

EDF couldn’t agree more.  Air quality in western parts of Colorado is trending in a bad direction, teetering on the edge of violating federal health standards.  The state health department issued nine ozone advisories last winter for Western Slope counties where oil and gas development is prevalent, meaning the air wasn’t healthy for kids, the elderly, active adults and people with respiratory illness.

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Natural Gas And The Methane Problem: Study Shows Climate Benefit Depends On Fixing The Leaks

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas – 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. The largest single source of U.S. methane emissions is the vast network of infrastructure and activity involved in the production, processing and delivery of natural gas. These emissions, if not controlled, pose a significant risk to the climate. In the near term, the opportunity to maximize the climate benefit of natural gas compared to other fossil fuels rests on whether methane emissions can be minimized.

A groundbreaking study released today demonstrates that some operators have been successful in deploying technologies and strategies to minimize methane emissions from production, creating optimism that we can make the natural gas climate bet payoff.  However, we also know that such technologies and strategies are not universally deployed in the industry and, not surprisingly, other studies demonstrate much higher methane leakage rates.

We simply need to be vigilant to ensure that such production is done right.

The University of Texas study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved taking direct measurements of actual methane emissions – as opposed to estimating emissions through indirect methods such as engineering formulas, as has often been the case in earlier studies.  Measurements were taken at well sites in multiple geographic regions – including the Rocky Mountain West. It is the first of 16 studies EDF is participating in to assess the scope of methane leakage throughout the natural gas supply chain (from production on through to local distribution and key end users). Read More »

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Clean Air Report Card: CO, WY Counties Get F’s Due To Oil And Gas Pollution

Source: Washington Business Journal

As a parent, I would not be pleased if my kids brought home F’s on their report cards.  Stern talks with my children, frantic phone calls and scheduled meetings with teachers and administrators would ensue.  Plans of action would be crafted.  It would be an urgent wake-up call.

This week, several counties in Colorado and Wyoming brought home poor grades on their clean air report cards.  The American Lung Association examined the levels of damaging ozone pollution in counties in these two western states and several of them are simply not making the grade.

High ozone levels are not new to Colorado.  Like many large metropolitan areas, Denver has struggled with ozone pollution (commonly known as smog) for many years. But historically, such problems have been limited to the summertime and to the Denver metropolitan area. Now unhealthy levels of ozone are becoming a common occurrence year-round and are emerging in rural parts of Colorado and Wyoming.

The culprit?  Air pollution from oil and gas development, which is just one of the environmental risks associated with a booming natural gas industry. Read More »

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EDF Pushes Colorado For Full Adoption, Stronger Enforcement Of EPA Oil And Gas Rules

Ten of the nation’s 100 largest natural gas fields are located in Colorado.  Three of the nation’s largest 100 oil fields are located here.  Overall, Colorado is host to over 45,000 oil and gas wells.

And yet, the agency here in Colorado responsible for inspecting oil and gas wells for compliance with air quality regulations employs a mere eight inspectors.  Yes, eight.

If we’re going to do it right in Colorado – developing energy resources in ways that protects communities, public health and the environment – the state is going to have to give agencies the resources they need to oversee industry operations.  No one should be forced to sacrifice clean air and a healthy community, and regulators can’t do their job with one hand tied behind their back.

Oil and gas operations emit a variety of air pollutants, including pollutants that contribute to ground-level ozone or “smog,” toxic air pollutants, including known human carcinogens, and methane, a potent climate-disrupting pollutant.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency adopted ground-breaking rules to reduce harmful pollution from oil and natural gas production.  The New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) contain critical safeguards for human health and the environment that will help improve air quality in Colorado.

EDF applauded EPA’s adoption of the NSPS standards as an important first step to minimize the environmental impact of oil and gas production.  And now our attention is turning to the states that are deciding whether to adopt and implement the new federal standards as their own or to cede enforcement to the EPA.

Despite Colorado’s past leadership in adopting clean air measures for the oil and gas sector, the state is now foregoing an opportunity to reduce harmful emissions from oil and gas operations through full adoption of the NSPS.  The primary reason for the decision not to fully adopt the federal standards is the lack of state inspection and enforcement resources.

Today, the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) indefinitely delayed adoption of the new EPA clean air standards as they apply to certain aspects of gas well operations while additional information is gathered.  Moreover, the Commission voted to adopt standards that apply to other facets of production (e.g., compressing stations) “only to the extent that they already trigger the combination of existing reporting and permitting requirements in Colorado.”

This “partial adoption” approach approved by the AQCC will (1) unduly delay the clean air benefits that the NSPS rules can bring to Colorado and (2) create a confusing and inefficient dual-agency enforcement regime that likely will fail to bring regulatory certainty.

The Colorado Air Pollution Control Division staff has indicated that the partial adoption approach is necessary given the sparse resources available for permitting, inspections and enforcement.  This concern is valid.  Even with new inspectors being brought on board, the Air Quality Control Division will only have eight employees to cover over 45,000 wells, for an astonishing inspector-to-well ratio of 1 to 5,625.  However, punting to the EPA for enforcement is not likely to improve the resource issue given that Region 8 employs fewer than five full-time oil and gas air inspectors for the entire six-state region.

Today, EDF and our allies implored the AQCC to fully adopt the NSPS standards for oil and gas operations and called on the Hickenlooper administration and the legislature to give state agencies the resources they need so they can provide effective oversight of the industry.

Oil and gas activity continues to grow at a breakneck pace in Colorado, and it is imperative that we take quick action to make sure it’s being done right.  Doing it right means not only putting strong standards in place, but also making sure our oversight agencies have the resources they need to ensure communities and our environment are protected.

To read the testimony we and our colleagues filed on this issue, click HERE.

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