If we didn’t know better, we would have thought Jack Dempsey, President of the Colorado Petroleum Association, was joking when he claimed that Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) doesn’t have authority to regulate air pollution.
The oil and gas industry usually advocates for regulation to take place at the state level, to avoid potentially tighter regulation by locals or the feds. But now that Colorado has promulgated forward-thinking new air pollution rules for oil and gas operations, Dempsey is changing the tune.
Just to clear up any confusion, the AQCC exists to regulate air pollution in Colorado:
“Created in 1970 by the Colorado Legislature, the Air Quality Control Commission develops air pollution control policy, regulates pollution sources and conducts hearings involving violations of the state’s air pollution laws.” AQCC Website
In Colorado, oil and gas operations are a major source of air pollution, including methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are the starter ingredients for ozone and smog pollution, nasty stuff that damages lung tissue and causes asthma attacks, among other serious human health impacts.
Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Colorado found that oil and natural gas operations are the “dominant wintertime source” of VOCs and ozone pollution on Colorado’s Front Range. It has been four years since Colorado met federal ozone standards and in 2013 seven Colorado counties received a grade of “D” or “F” in the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report.
Methane, another air pollutant from oil and gas infrastructure, is a potent greenhouse gas, 34 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Any potential climate benefits from burning natural gas—something touted by President Obama, the oil and gas industry, and some environmental groups—can be erased if even small amounts of methane leaks from oil and natural gas infrastructure.
Not all players in the oil and gas industry necessarily agree with Jack Dempsey and the Colorado Petroleum Association. Executives from Encana, Anadarko, and Noble Energy—the three largest oil and gas producers in Colorado—all came out in support of the AQCC’s proposed rules. The companies were at the table and helped draft the standards, touted as the strongest in the nation.
It’s a breath of fresh air to see major players in the oil and gas industry, the state, and conservation groups come together to develop strong air quality rules. It can serve as a roadmap to find balance between responsible oil and gas development and the health and welfare of communities. Now, we just need to make sure the proposed rules are finalized without the likes of Jack Dempsey and the Colorado Petroleum Association derailing the process.