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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One Comment

  1. Posted October 24, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Colorado should find a way to employ more than just eight inspectors. Pennsylvania now employs 193 drill site inspectors – no state comes close to having a comparable number of oil and gas staff.