Colorado Becomes the First State to Regulate Methane Emissions From Fracking

Colorado will be the first state in the nation to clamp down on emissions of the super potent greenhouse gas methane from the state’s booming oil and gas industry. The rules, finalized Sunday, will require well operators to comply with stricter leak detection requirements — a provision the state’s main oil and gas industry trade group fought to change.

The new rules were spearheaded by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in an effort to tackle the increasingly visible pollution along the Colorado’s Front Range, and brought together the three largest operators — Noble, Anadarko and Encana — along with the Environmental Defense Fund.

When the rules were first introduced in November, state health chief Larry Wolk estimated they could cut overall air pollution in Colorado by 92,000 tons a year — roughly equivalent to taking every car in the state off the road for a year.

“This is a model for the country,” Dan Grossman, EDF’s Rocky Mountain regional director, told Bloomberg. “We’ve got this simmering battle between the oil and gas industry and neighborhoods throughout the state that are being faced with development. That degree of acrimony is pushing the industry and policy makers to look for ways to get some wins.”

Fracking, the method of oil and gas extraction that involves injecting a high pressure stream of water and chemicals into rock formations, has become a heated issue in Colorado. In November, four cities voted to place bans or moratoria on fracking due to the risk it poses to public health and the environment. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association — the industry trade group that fought to weaken the new air pollution rules — has filed lawsuits against three of the four towns, maintaining the communities do not have the right to decide whether oil and gas production takes place within their limits.

Fracking’s threat to air and water supplies has long been countered by the fact that natural gas is comparatively less polluting than coal and could serve as a bridge between electricity generated by coal and large-scale deployment of renewable energy. But, as ClimateProgress’ Joe Romm explains, natural gas is mostly methane and methane traps 86 times as much heat as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Thus, “even small leaks in the natural gas production and delivery system can have a large climate impact — enough to gut the entire benefit of switching from coal-fired power to gas.”

According to a recently released Stanford study, “a review of more than 200 earlier studies confirms that U.S. emissions of methane are considerably higher than official estimates. Leaks from the nation’s natural gas system are an important part of the problem.”

In an effort to address the many sources of leakage, the Colorado rules will require companies to step up their leak-detection methods and capabilities. In addition, they require companies to install devices that capture 95 percent of emissions, both volatile organic compounds and methane.

“We all want clean air, and we believe keeping methane in the pipeline and out of the air is the right thing to do,” Ted Brown, Noble Energy Senior Vice President said in a statement to FOX31 Denver.

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