White House takes cue from Colorado’s methane rules, environmentalists say

January 14, 2015
Photo: Fracking operation in Colorado (AP Photo)
In this March 25, 2014 photo, heat from machinery distorts the air as a worker watches over a hydraulic fracturing operation at an Encana Corp. oil well near Mead in Weld County, Colorado.

Colorado's 2014 crackdown on methane pollution served as a model for new White House pollution goals announced Wednesday, environmental advocates say.

The Obama administration's newly announced plans are to cut methane emissions by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2025, compared to 2012 levels. Methane leaks during production of natural gas. It traps heat at least 20 times more effectively than carbon dioxide. 

"EPA and the federal government is taking the lead from what Colorado was able to do, which I think is good news for us in the state as well as the rest of the nation," said Dan Grossman, the Environmental Defense Fund's Rocky Mountain regional director.

The Environmental Defense Fund and the state's largest oil and gas producers worked together to write the nation's first rules on methane pollution, an unusual collaboration between business and environmental interests. The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission approved them in February of last year. 

“This is the right thing to do for our business,” Curtis Rueter, a Denver-based development manager at Noble Energy told Bloomberg last year. “We want to find the leaks and fix them because that will reduce our emissions and the rules provide guidance and technology for us to do that.”

Colorado's rules require the largest operators in the state to check for and repair leaks monthly. It's not yet clear how stringent the EPA's rules will be, Grossman said. The federal agency says it will issue a proposal this summer, and then finalize it in 2016 — the last year of President Barack Obama's presidency.

"Our hope is when they actually look for regulations, they will look at what Colorado did," Grossman said.

New rules only target new drilling

The rules will only target new or modified natural gas wells, not existing ones. But the White House says it's also asking for the energy industry to voluntarily curb emissions from existing wells.

Environmental groups applauded the White House action, but said it should also target existing wells.

"EPA and [the Bureau of Land Management] must act quickly to reduce methane emissions from all new and existing sources of methane pollution in the oil and gas sector, including the transmission and distribution of natural gas," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.

Earthworks and the Environmental Defense Fund also released statements with similar concerns. 

Colorado was among the top 10 oil-producing states in 2013 with 64,882 barrels of crude produced. It was the sixth-highest natural gas producer in 2013.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.