State: All good de­spite Trump ef­forts

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Dan El­liott

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is rolling back some U.S. reg­u­la­tions on climate­changing meth­ane pol­lu­tion, call­ing them ex­pen­sive and bur­den­some, but Colorado says its rules are work­ing — and they have in­dus­try sup­port.

En­ergy com­pa­nies have found and re­paired about 73,000 meth­ane leaks since 2015 un­der a staterequired oil­field in­spec­tion pro­gram, ac­cord­ing to the Colorado Air Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Di­vi­sion. The num­ber of leaks fell by 52 per­cent, from more than 36,000 in 2015 to about 17,250 in 2017, ac­cord­ing to a state re­port re­leased last week.

Nei­ther the gov­ern­ment nor in­dus­try groups could say how much meth­ane has been kept out of the at­mos­phere when the leaks were fixed, cit­ing the com­plex­ity of fac­tors in­volved.

But state of­fi­cials said the sharp de­cline in the num­ber of leaks shows Colorado is suc­ceed­ing.

“We’re just re­ally en­cour­aged by what we’re see­ing with this pro­gram and with the in­dus­try as a whole,” said Mark McMil­lan, a man­ager in the state air pol­lu­tion agency.

Meth­ane is the pri­mary com­po­nent of nat­u­ral gas. It is also a green­house gas, con­tribut­ing to

global warm­ing by trap­ping heat in the Earth’s at­mos­phere.

Colorado, the fifth­largest nat­u­ral gas pro­ducer in the nation, started re­quir­ing en­ergy com­pa­nies to reg­u­larly in­spect oil field equip­ment for leaks in 2014. The pro­gram is de­signed to re­duce re­leases of meth­ane and volatile or­ganic com­pounds, or VOCs, which are also com­po­nents of nat­u­ral gas.

Un­der the right con­di­tions — which are of­ten present in Denver and Colorado’s Front Range ur­ban cor­ri­dor — VOCs turn into ground­level ozone. Ozone, the main com­po­nent of smog, can ag­gra­vate asthma and con­trib­ute to early deaths from re­s­pi­ra­tory dis­ease.

En­vi­ron­men­tal and in­dus­try groups agreed Colorado’s pro­gram is work­ing, with some reser­va­tions.

“It’s good to see that the num­ber of leaks is lower than it was back when the pro­gram started. But it’s not time to cel­e­brate yet,” said David McCabe, a se­nior scientist with the Clean Air Task Force, an en­vi­ron­men­tal group.

Colorado’s oil and gas in­dus­try is still re­leas­ing a lot of meth­ane and VOCs, he said.

The Colorado Pe­tro­leum Coun­cil sup­ports the state’s rules, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Tracee Bent­ley said through a spokesman, Reid Porter. The Colorado coun­cil is af­fil­i­ated with the Amer­i­can Pe­tro­leum In­sti­tute, a na­tion­wide in­dus­try group.

Colorado’s suc­cess re­flects a broad in­dus­try ef­fort to re­duce meth­ane re­leases, Porter said.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion im­posed two sets of na­tion­wide rules de­signed to re­duce meth­ane leaks and waste in the oil and gas in­dus­try, one by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and one by the In­te­rior De­part­ment.

The EPA rules ap­plied to new oil field fa­cil­i­ties. The In­te­rior De­part­ment rules ap­plied to new and ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties on fed­eral and Na­tive Amer­i­can land.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is in the process of rolling back both sets of rules. The ad­min­is­tra­tion called the In­te­rior De­part­ment reg­u­la­tions bur­den­some and said they cost more than they were worth. Of­fi­cials said re­mov­ing the EPA rule would save en­ergy com­pa­nies up to $16 mil­lion over 14 years.

En­ergy com­pa­nies also have ar­gued they are al­ready work­ing to re­duce leaks of meth­ane, a prod­uct they can sell.

Bent­ley said the In­te­rior De­part­ment and EPA rules are re­dun­dant.

“Two sets of reg­u­la­tions, two agen­cies, guar­an­tees du­plica­tive and costly over­lap,” she said.

The reg­u­la­tion would be bet­ter left to the states, Bent­ley said.

“I think that the states know best, and hon­estly, every state is dif­fer­ent,” she said.

Joel Mi­nor, an at­tor­ney for Earthjus­tice in Denver, said the suc­cess of Colorado’s rules shows that uni­form na­tion­wide reg­u­la­tions laid down by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment are work­able and nec­es­sary.

“The oil and gas in­dus­try is still do­ing very well in our state,” Mi­nor said. “I think that just shows how cost­ef­fec­tive the reg­u­la­tions are.”

But no state can sin­gle­hand­edly pro­tect its air be­cause wind cur­rents carry pol­lu­tion across state lines, he said.

“For any one state to have clean air, it re­quires all states to have clean air,” Mi­nor said.

The Colorado pro­gram re­lies on oil and gas com­pa­nies to re­port their in­spec­ tions and re­sults, al­though the state makes its own unan­nounced in­spec­tions us­ing in­frared cam­eras that can de­tect meth­ane leaks.

The state does not ex­pect to re­port its re­sults un­til late this year or next, but the in­spec­tions have shown a de­cline in leaks that re­flects what com­pa­nies re­ported, said Jeremy Neustifter, an air qual­ity plan­ner with the Colorado De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health and En­vi­ron­ment.

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