It’s important that Coloradans know some important facts about oil and gas drilling, especially when it comes to air quality and emissions.
Let’s begin here: Air permits are based on data, not speculation.
Oil and natural gas production must first occur in order to have something to calculate. Emission regulations exist with this basic premise in mind. Furthermore, in Colorado, emission controls are installed before production begins. Gov. Jared Polis’ own team confirmed that Colorado’s health department requires state-of-the-art emission controls during the first 90 days of production.
However, emissions standards are based on how much a well, or multiple wells on a single site, produce. That is unknown until the well starts producing. That initial 90-day period matters because it allows for the issuance of an accurate permit. This is not a regulatory “loophole.” It is an intentional, common-sense permitting system that is based on data, approved by the EPA, and employed in other energy-producing states.
Additionally, let’s not forget that oil and natural gas facilities are always subject to state inspections to evaluate for compliance. If appropriate emission controls are not in place on the first day of operations, that facility would be in violation and may be subject to multiple fines. By having controls in place before production begins, and by having strong compliance requirements, we can both protect our air and issue permits based on real data.
Colorado’s air quality regulatory framework has been highly successful, as indicated by the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations, or STRONGER initiative. This program exists to assist state environmental regulatory agencies around the country with the continuous improvement of their oil and natural gas regulatory programs. In 2017, STRONGER published the Colorado Air Quality State Review Report: “The Report reflects the exceptional quality of the (Air Pollution Control Division)’s oil and gas program, which meets all of STRONGER’s guidelines criteria for air quality.”
With this framework in place, Colorado’s oil and natural gas emissions have dropped 50 percent in recent years, at the same time oil production nearly quadrupled, proving that working with facts and data is the right approach. It is also important to recognize where our emissions come from, especially when referencing volatile organic compounds and ozone formation. According to data published by the Regional Air Quality Council, on high ozone days, roughly 75 percent of VOCs and ozone originate beyond our state borders and drifts into Colorado’s Front Range. Our topography combined with atmospheric patterns leads to this unique challenge.
Our industry is continually exploring new and better approaches to improve environmental performance. A 50 percent emission reduction requires a culture that taps into the creativity of scientists and engineers to apply new technology and push innovations. Some examples we see include advanced leak detection technologies, remote monitoring, aerial monitoring, the application of data analytics, and moving to tankless operations where possible. Colorado should be proud of these accomplishments and the workers that think outside the box to help achieve them.
We all have a responsibility to protect our air, water, and environment, and Colorado oil and natural gas companies work hard every day to pursue that ongoing objective. It’s important. Colorado is home. This is where we live, work, and play. We all value clean air and clean water. To effectively support that value, we must operate from a platform of reality and the facts that shape it.
Dan Haley is the president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.