Not just a Front Range issue: Leaders seek better air quality on Western Slope

December 11, 2019, 1:59 pm
Gas drilling in Garfield County (David O. Williams photo).

A push by a coalition of Western Slope conservation groups and elected officials – including the Eagle County Board of Commissioners – to expand limits on oil and gas emissions statewide instead of just along the Front Range is coming to a head next week.

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (CAQCC) has been holding public meetings on the Western Slope, including Tuesday in Rifle (see press release below), Wednesday in Durango and Monday in Larimer County, and then will take testimony and hold deliberations next week at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) in Denver.

“People talk about the war on coal. We talk about the war on powder [snow]. It’s critical,” Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said earlier this year when asked why she signed a letter seeking stricter statewide standards for methane emissions from oil and gas drilling.

“We typically try to stay out of the oil and gas battles because we don’t have those natural resources here, but when it comes to air quality, the air particles don’t stop at county lines,” Chandler-Henry added. “Thinking that what happens in [oil and gas drilling areas such as] Garfield County and even La Plata County doesn’t affect us is incorrect.”

Here’s a press release from the CDPHE on recent and upcoming CAQCC meetings:

Air Quality Control Commission invites public comment

DENVER: As part of its commitment to work closely with Colorado’s communities and to carefully listen to feedback from across the state, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission will be hosting public meetings in multiple Colorado communities. The commission welcomes public comments and presentations on the first phase of proposed rules to reduce emissions from the oil and gas sector. The rules address part of the directives under SB 19-181. There will be additional rulemakings to address other parts of the new law.

WHAT: Meetings of the Air Quality Control Commission.


Public Comment Sessions for Community Members

  • Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, at 6:00 p.m., Rifle City Hall, 202 Railroad Ave., Rifle, CO
  • Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019 at 6:00 p.m., La Plata County Commission Board Room, 1101 East 2nd Ave., Room E103, Durango, CO
  • Monday, Dec. 16, 2019 at 4:30 p.m., Larimer County-Loveland Complex, McKee Hall, 200 Peridot Ave., Loveland, CO 80537

Party Testimony and Commission Deliberations

  • Tuesday-Thursday, Dec. 17, 18 and 19 at 9 a.m., Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 4300 Cherry Creek South, Sabin Conference Room, Denver, CO

Audio from all meetings will be steamed online.

WHO: Members of the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission will preside. The public is invited to provide comments at the meetings in Rifle, Durango, and Loveland. 

The Commission will hear presentations and testimony from the Air Pollution Control Division and other pre-registered parties at the meetings in Glendale. A complete list of those with party status can be found here.

And here’s a press release on Tuesday’s meeting in Rifle from the Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action, a community-organizing group based in Grand Junction:

Communities call for stronger air quality protections from oil and gas

RIFLE, Colo. — Residents from Garfield, Mesa, Routt and Delta counties showed up in force Tuesday to press the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to adopt strong new statewide air quality standards for oil and gas operations.

The public comment hearing in Rifle is one of three around the state in advance of the Commission’s Dec. 17-19 rulemaking hearings in Denver, when it will consider recommendations from the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division to reduce methane and ozone emissions from oil and gas operations around the state.

“It’s critical that the Air Quality Control Commission adopt statewide regulations to cut back ozone and methane emissions from oil and gas development in order to protect public health and the climate,” Troy Redding, oil and gas organizer at Western Colorado Alliance (WCA), said before the hearing.

“Both agriculture and our $28 billion recreation economy in Colorado depends on a healthy climate,” Redding explained. “And ozone levels have been getting worse on the West Slope, according to the American Lung Association.”

Oil and gas operations are affecting climate and air quality statewide. The Front Range has experienced persistently unsafe levels of ozone, forcing people to stay inside whenever ozone alerts are issued.  The American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report has given the worst grade possible  for ozone levels to La Plata County, an F, and recently downgraded Garfield County from a C to a D.

The West Slope is home to world-class ski areas and a host of summer activities that are the linchpin of its economy.  Climate change driven in large part by methane emissions from oil and gas development threatens winter activities with drought and less predictable snowfall and summer activities with higher temperature and the threat of wildfire. In 2014, NASA discovered a methane cloud over a 2,400 square mile area in southwestern Colorado largely attributable to oil and gas drilling in the region.

Protecting air quality for all Coloradans

Currently in Colorado, oil and gas emissions rules are more stringent in nine Front Range counties where ozone emissions pose a persistent health threat.  West Slope residents and organizations like WCA, Western Leaders Network and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance are pressing the state to apply strong uniform standards across the state.

“I support the proposed rules under consideration. These common sense regulations will provide consistency for the industry throughout the state and will help protect air quality and health statewide,” Shelley Kaup, mayor pro-tem of Glenwood Springs, said in testimony to the AQCC.

The Air Pollution Control Division has proposed a bold suit of policies to cut methane emissions and ozone-forming pollutants, including: 

·      Enhanced statewide leak detection and repair requirements at a minimum twice annually for all oil and gas infrastructure – including low-producing wells;

·      Expanding “find and fix” requirements to prevent leaks from pneumatic devices which move gas, oil, or other liquids;

·      Closing the 90-day permitting loophole that allows oil and gas drilling to move forward without an air permit; 

·      Strengthening statewide requirements to reduce emissions from storage tanks – including low-producing wells;

·      Developing a first-of-its-kind, performance-based standard for reducing emissions in the natural gas transmission and storage sector; 

·      New annual reporting requirements for oil and gas producers of methane emissions from all their facilities and activities.

“The Colorado Clean Air Act requires that all air emission sources operate with Best Control Technology— independent of location within the state,” said Rodger Stein, a Routt County resident and member of WCA.  “There is no reason for anything but uniform air rules throughout Colorado. Rules for the West Slope should be the same as for the Front Range.”

One particularly important rule proposed by the state is increased leak detection and repair requirements for low producing wells on the West Slope and in rural northern Colorado that are outside the Front Range ozone nonattainment area. Large leaks can occur on any sized well or tank, and it’s critical that low producing wells and storage tanks are inspected twice yearly to ensure any problems that develop are addressed in a timely fashion.

Making homes and schools safer near oil and gas

Three citizen groups involved in the rulemaking process have also proposed a proximity rule that would require more frequent inspections by oil and gas operators of all facilities and infrastructure located within 1,000 feet of homes, schools, businesses and other public areas. If a leak is found it must be repaired within a matter of days.

WCA, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and LOGIC (League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans) developed the proximity rule in response to years of complaints  about headaches, nose bleeds and noxious odors by residents of places like Battlement Mesa and Silt on the West Slope and numerous communities along the Front Range between Denver and Greeley.  A recent study by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also found that people living near oil and gas operations face increased likelihood of exposure to benzene and other toxic emissions.

Statewide coalition for emissions reduction

The effort to adopt stronger statewide emissions regulations has been a multi-pronged effort involving dozens of communities and environmental organizations across the West Slope and Front Range. Numerous resort and other communities, including Aspen, Pitkin County and Carbondale, are members of Colorado Communities for Climate Action, a statewide organization that represents jurisdictions across the state in the AQCC rulemaking process. In southwestern Colorado, Western Leaders Network has been working with local jurisdictions, including La Plata and San Miguel counties to advocate for stronger statewide regulations.

“Air pollution knows no boundaries and the ozone and methane emissions affect our neighboring counties and communities.  It’s important to protect our health and climate statewide with a strong set of uniformly applied air quality regulations,” said Leslie Robinson, a Rifle resident and chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance.

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