The American West is home to the vast majority of the nation’s federal and tribal lands, which account for well over half of the total land area of several Western states. And, the Western states are also significant centers of domestic oil and gas production, contributing 80 to 90 percent of total federal and tribal production.
Now, a new report estimates that fugitive and vented losses from oil and natural gas operations on federal and tribal lands amounted to over 65 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas in 2013, representing over 1 million metric tons of harmful methane pollution.
The report, released this week by the independent consultancy ICF International and commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund, looks at oil and gas development on federal and tribal lands —specifically, emissions from gas that is leaked, vented, or flared every year.
Oil and gas emissions matter. Excessive venting, flaring and leaking of gas can degrade regional air quality. Moreover, natural gas is comprised mostly of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. In addition to the emissions associated with these activities, we believe venting, flaring and leaking of natural gas represents the wasteful loss of a finite and valuable natural resource.
Long familiar in major urban areas, smog – what we experts call “ground-level ozone” pollution – is quickly becoming a serious problem in the rural mountain west, thanks to rapid expansion in oil and gas development. Smog can cause serious health impacts like aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, and even premature death. In areas like the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming, smog levels have sometimes rivaled those in Los Angeles.
Now, the Environmental Protection Agency and several western states are putting the pieces in place to fix this problem: EPA through proposed revisions to the health-based ozone standard that will better protect people from pollution, and states like Wyoming and Colorado through strong policies that are helping to reduce the sources of ozone pollution in the oil and gas industry.
In official public comments filed this week with EPA, EDF and a broad coalition of western environmental and conservation groups supported a more protective ozone standard and pointed out the importance of this issue to the intermountain west–where most of the country’s oil and gas production from federal lands occurs.
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.
Posted in Air Quality, Climate, Colorado, General, Methane, Natural Gas Also tagged Climate, climate change, environment, fracking, Methane, Natural Gas
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.
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.
This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices: People on the Planet blog.
At a time when partisan rancor is the order of the day, this week’s news out of Colorado is a tribute to the power of partnership. On Monday, Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado proposed new regulations for oil and gas operations that, if adopted, will cut both conventional air pollution and climate pollution – by making Colorado the first state in the nation to tackle the problem of methane emissions. The big announcement showed that industry leaders, state officials and an environmental group like Environmental Defense Fund can sit down together to negotiate a plan to deliver cleaner, safer air. And just in time. As EDF’s Rocky Mountain Regional Director Dan Grossman told NPR this week, “the fundamental question [is] whether or not citizens will tolerate oil and gas development.”
On Election Day, four Colorado communities voted to ban hydraulic fracturing. State officials and industry leaders are getting the message: public trust has been badly damaged, and the only way to restore it is by putting in place strong rules to protect air, water, and communities. Not every community is going to ban oil and gas development, obviously, so we need to protect the many places where it is happening.
While the new Colorado proposal doesn’t address all the issues surrounding oil and gas development, the governor and the state’s regulators should be applauded for their efforts in bringing forward these commonsense air pollution measures, which were agreed to and supported by EDF, Anadarko Petroleum, Encana, and Noble Energy. And we’re not the only ones who think so. Newspapers from Los Angeles to Denver to New York wrote in support of the new rules. New York Times columnist Joe Nocera praised both the proposed legislation and Environmental Defense Fund’s collaborative approach in an op-ed published Monday. Read More