New Emissions Regulations in Colorado Could Become Model

City Skyline

By James Noble

March 6, 2014

Colorado regulators approved landmark rules to reduce air pollution from oil and natural gas operations after an unlikely coalition of energy companies and environmentalists agreed on measures to counter worsening smog. The new regulations include the United States’ first-ever regulations designed to detect and reduce methane emissions.

As oil and gas activity has ramped up in the state, smog has proliferated. Data monitoring has shown that air pollution and smog levels have exceeded U.S. federal limits, and a constant haze has afflicted Denver’s picturesque Rocky Mountain backdrop. As a result, Governor John Hickenlooper requested cooperation between disparate groups to address the pollution.

Representatives from the environmental community, the energy industry and state agencies began working on what would be called the Oil and Gas Emission Rules. While largely intended to limit volatile organic compounds, which contribute to smog, the new regulations also seek to curtail methane, a potent greenhouse gas that has a global warming potential 25 times greater than carbon dioxide. Oil and gas companies will be required to install devices that captures gas leakage from pipes and equipment, a major source of methane emissions.

The emission reduction technologies available to energy companies—including low-bleed pneumatic controllers, desiccant dehydrators, vapor recovery units and better pipe maintenance—are considered by companies and environmentalists as “win-win” improvements. For environmental groups, the improvements will lead to cleaner air and less smog. For oil and gas companies, the cost-effective technologies will allow them to capture roughly 95% of the methane, which can be sold at profit even as it reduces emissions.

In the face of insufficient federal action, Governor Hickenlooper believes Colorado's standards can be a model for other oil and gas producing states.