Colorado Is Poised To Clean Up The Air Around Oil And Gas Wells

Grace Hood/CPR
A drilling rig at work near a residential neighborhood in Erie, Colo. An overhaul of oil and gas regulations will give localities more control over where drilling can happen.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is preparing to launch a large-scale, rule-making process to tamp down on harmful greenhouse gases like methane and other air pollutants that leak from oil and gas equipment.

The goal to reduce methane emissions stems from Senate Bill 181, which launched massive reform for the oil and gas industry.

“We know that 181 is an incredibly important statute. There are a lot of expectations; there are a lot of fears around it, and so we want to make sure that its a fully transparent process,” said John Putnam, director of environmental programs at CDPHE.

Regulators are also looking to reduce volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide pollution, which contribute to ground-level ozone in Colorado. The state is currently out of compliance with federal ozone rules.

Among the provisions under consideration are:

  • More regular required methane inspections for smaller oil and gas facilities (large facilities are inspected multiple times per year).
  • Controls for midstream equipment that transports natural gas away from wells to gas plants.
  • Annual collection of data from oil and gas wells.
  • A rule to close a loophole that allows oil companies 90 days after a well goes into production to set air emissions requirements with CDPHE.

“This is a substantial step in what’s been already a number of substantial steps,” said Garry Kaufman, director of Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division.

The scope of the rule making from the Air Quality Control Division — set to formally kick off in September — could be one of the largest for the oil industry since CDPHE launched its initial methane emissions regulations for the oil industry.

It comes in addition to new rules that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is adopting to tighten regulations on the industry.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is expected to hold a number of stakeholder engagement meetings in August and September. A formal rule is expected to be proposed this fall.