A rule to suppress air pollution from the main appliances used in the oil and gas industry – which has enjoyed support from environmental and industry groups – was unanimously adopted by Colorado air quality regulators on Thursday.
The nation’s first rule of thumb requires zero emissions controllers to be installed on all new oil and gas operations and modifications to existing control units – a major source of emissions in the industry.
Environment and industry groups developed a compromise proposal that was jointly submitted to the Air Quality Monitoring Committee. A wide range of local governments, including Wild County, the state’s largest oil-producing province, either supported or opposed the proposal.
Commissioner Elise Jones said, “There isn’t much to talk about.” This is an extraordinary situation on which everyone agrees. “
The state’s air pollution control division had initially proposed a rule to the AQCC that would have required controllers that would only emit emissions at new facilities, but over the past few months, negotiations between industry representatives, environmental groups and local governments have expanded the rule to include existing operations.
The rule would result in “a significant portion of state controllers not being released by May 1, 2023,” according to the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups involved in the settlement.
Controllers manage temperatures, pressures, and liquid levels in oil and gas installations and drilling platforms. Most natural gas controllers operate from the same well and every time they open and close a valve or other mechanism, they release a little bit of the gas.
Released methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to pollution of the frontal ozone layer.
While the amount of gas emitted is small – at 2.8 standard cubic feet of methane per hour, according to one study – there were an estimated 100,000 controllers operating in Colorado in 2019.
Nationwide, controllers account for 29% of air emissions in the oil industry, according to David McCabe, a lead scientist with the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force, a public health and environmental advocacy group.
The new rule requires non-emission control units in all wells and production facilities built after May 1, 2021, or in existing facilities when drilling new wells or re-fracturing wells to boost production.
The regulation also applies to new natural gas compressor stations and existing compressor stations replacing equipment to increase their horsepower.
Operators are also required to systematically replace emissions controllers at existing facilities and have been given the flexibility to develop company-wide plans to do so.
The scale of the emissions reductions required is also on a tiered scale – between 15% and 40% – as companies that already use zero-emissions control devices need to make smaller cuts.
“With the flexibility that company-wide plans provide, every operator will be able to make the most cost-effective retrofits,” according to EDF.
The regulation also provides limited exemptions from temporary or portable equipment requirements, remote or offshore wells, as well as safety and production issues. The waiver must be approved by the state APCD.
Older and smaller wells – known as separate wells – that produce the equivalent of 15 barrels of oil or less per day will also be exempt, although their status will be reviewed in future negotiations.
The settlement base has been supported by groups ranging from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group, to the Colorado Conservation. Al Qaeda has also supported more than 60 local governments.
“The stakeholder discussions surrounding the air control units have proven to be very intense and objective, but the collaborative work and goodwill across the parties led to a clear path forward for further emissions reductions in the state,” Lyn Granger, CEO of Trade Group API – Colorado said in a statement.
It also support APCD leveling. “It’s crafting unique rules,” said Jeremy Murray, the department’s environmental specialist. “Settlement and cooperation is the Colorado way.”
Commissioner Curtis Reuter said: “As a panel, it’s really good for something to be presented without pending problems.”