Colorado is the fifth largest producer of oil and gas in America, which means that the fossil fuel industry is a vital part of the state’s economy. One consequence of oil and gas operations is the release of methane into the atmosphere, sometimes on purpose and sometimes accidentally. Because methane is such a powerful greenhouse gas, governments around the world have been struggling to reduce or eliminate these emissions for decades, but have been refused—do it. strong Opposition – from the oil and gas industry, which says controlling methane emissions is too expensive (as if destroying every living thing on earth is just an unfortunate consequence of doing business).
In 2021, the Colorado Air Quality Oversight Commission, in response to a mandate from the state legislature, began drafting rules to significantly reduce methane emissions from in-state operations. What followed was 18 months of intense negotiations with all stakeholders.
Colorado rules for methane reduction
Last week, the commission unanimously approved new standards that will directly tie the amount of oil and gas companies within the state can produce to how well they reduce and measure methane emissions from their operations. Colorado’s rules could become a model for other states and the federal government. The big news here is that the commission managed to get all parties to agree to the new rules, which means they won’t be the subject of (hopefully) endless litigation.
According to the Colorado SunSince the inception of the process, the oil and gas industry has been supportive of the rulemaking process while environmental and community groups have been wary of the process or outright opposed it. Commissioner Curtis Reuter said the new rules are “nicely balanced, and everyone’s given a little”. Commissioner Elise Jones went so far as to say, “Every preposition is so hotly negotiated. I don’t even want to mess with that.”
The rules target specific field equipment such as tanks, engines, and valves and also require enhanced inspections. These “command and control” rules are of increasingly limited value, Reuter said. “We plucked all the low hanging fruit. We took care of all the easy ones.”
The intensity program, which aims to reduce methane emissions, will give oil and gas companies discretion in how they reduce emissions, and will set target reductions based on the amount of oil and gas produced. The rules are part of an effort to meet Colorado’s legal requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 26% by 2025; 50% by 2030; and 90% by 2050. The oil and gas industry is Colorado’s third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after transportation and electricity generation.
“Today’s agreement is rooted in technical expertise across academia, technology providers and industry, and will provide Colorado with a sound regulatory framework for checking greenhouse gas emissions,” the state’s two major trade groups — the Colorado Oil & Gas Association and the American Petroleum Institute — said in a joint statement.
“The Air Quality Monitoring Committee voted today to adopt a rationale proposal for the Department of Air Pollution Control to measure methane emissions directly in the field,” said Nene Guo, regulatory and legislative director of the Environmental Defense Fund.
“While there is still important work ahead as the department develops a scientifically robust program, this rule creates the necessary framework for assessing whether the state is meeting its statutory methane targets and ensuring that oil and gas operators comply with pollution abatement standards. Today’s vote demonstrates Colorado’s continued leadership in oil and gas methane regulations, which is possible thanks to the department’s commitment to bringing stakeholders to the negotiating table to find win-win solutions.”
The rule approved by the Commission today includes the following main points:
- It requires that methane emissions at production sites be directly quantified, and measurement data must be publicly reported.
- It gives the department the authority and tools to ensure industry compliance.
- Establishes an overall process for the development and continuous evaluation of a robust companion protocol by the department.
This protocol, which will be completed later in the year, is critical to the program’s success. It will ensure that the rule is applied correctly, improving the country’s ability to create an accurate greenhouse gas inventory based on real-world data, the EDF said.
Supporters hope the carbon-intensive program will generate innovative ways to capture methane. To meet the 2030 goal, the state’s air pollution control department calculates that the industry must cut methane emissions by 140,000 metric tons annually. Density program rules are expected to account for about 39% of the reductions.
Real world observation of real world results
Oil and gas operators will be required to provide more detailed inventories of their emissions, calculate greenhouse gas intensity per 1,000 barrels of oil equivalent, or BOE (a measure of oil and gas), and submit a plan for achieving carbon intensity targets. In 2025, the first year the rule will come into effect, oil companies that produce more than 10 million barrels of oil equivalent per year can emit no more than 11 tons of carbon dioxide per 1,000 barrels of oil equivalent.
Operators below this level can emit the equivalent of 34 tons of CO2 per 1,000 barrels of oil. Levels were reduced in 2027 and 2030. All new oil and gas operations will have stricter emissions limits.
The key to the rule is verified measurements of emissions to see if reduction plans are actually working. “The goal is to reduce real emissions, not just reported emissions,” David McCabe, senior scientist on the Clean Air Task Force, told the panel.
To do this, operators will be required to have some form of ground monitoring instrument or gauges, whose records will be verified by an independent author. At the same time, the state’s air regulators will conduct surface, fixed-wing and satellite atmospheric measurements.
What types of monitoring technologies will be allowed and what best management practices are identified as ways to reduce emissions remains to be negotiated between the parties to develop a protocol. Stephanie Rucker, director of the APCD’s Office of Planning and Air Quality Innovations and principal architect of the density rule, told the panel the goal is to have the first version of the protocol by the end of the year.
Featured image by David Who pixabay
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