Polluted air hovers above downtown Denver, Colo. 

(Photo: CPR/Lesley McClurg)
State air quality control commissioners have approved new rules on the oil  and gas industry to clean Colorado’s air.  The vote was 8-1 on Sunday, Feb. 23.

An unusual coalition of industry and environmentalists agreed on measures to prevent pollution, and make Colorado the first state to regulate methane emissions. 

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and a byproduct of oil and gas drilling. It traps heat at least 20 times more effectively than carbon dioxide. But, the rules go beyond regulating methane -- they require the largest operators in the state to check for and repair leaks of all kinds every month. 

The state estimates the changes will decrease air pollution by 100,000 tons annually. That is a 34% reduction in emissions from the oil and gas industry.

The rules could help bring Colorado back into compliance with federal air quality standards. Currently, the air along the Front Range is dirtier than it’s supposed to be.

But, Jeremy Nichols, of Wild Earth Guardians, says the rules are only a first step. He says the state is overestimating the effectiveness of the rules. 

Backing from the industry is mixed. Trade groups like the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Colorado Petroleum Association challenged the rules. But, large operators like Anadarko Petroleum, Noble Energy and Encana expressed support.

Governor Hickenlooper says the new rules ensure Colorado has the cleanest and safest oil and gas industry in the country.