Hickenlooper proposes strict rules on methane

DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed the nation’s strictest rules on methane air pollution from gas and oil fields Monday.

Environmental groups and three gas and oil companies – Encana, Anadarko and Noble Energy – hashed out the plan with Hickenlooper’s senior staff.

The proposed regulations would cut 92,000 tons of volatile organic compounds a year out of Colorado’s air – equivalent to all the VOCs emitted by every car in the state, said Larry Wolk, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“It all came together, really, in the name of health,” Wolk said.

But the rule still needs approval from the Air Quality Control Commission, and the gas and oil industry is not unanimously on board.

Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, was part of a larger group negotiating over the air pollution rule, but his group only found out about Hickenlooper’s plan Monday morning.

“We didn’t even know about it,” Dempsey said. “This came as a surprise.”

Dempsey said his group, which includes many of the state’s oil companies, will review the proposed rule and decide how to engage the Air Quality Control Commission when it takes up the governor’s proposal.

The health department estimates complying with the rule would cost the industry $30 million.

Hickenlooper praised the companies that helped his staff craft the rule and attended Monday’s news conference to unveil it.

“There is a genuine commitment. These are some of the larger companies in Colorado, and they understand there is a shared responsibility,” Hickenlooper said.

Dan Grossman, director of the regional chapter of the Environmental Defense Fund, praised the proposed rule as by far the strongest standard in the country for leak detection and repair of gas and oil equipment.

“The environmental concerns around oil and gas are real, and they impact Coloradans in a profound way,” Grossman said.

The plan proposes to require leak detection from tanks and pipelines using infrared cameras, more frequent inspections for leaks and a fast timeline for repairs. It would make Colorado the first state to require leak prevention for a wide variety of hydrocarbons, including methane.

Methane is a common and potent greenhouse gas, but methane and other hydrocarbons can also cause breathing problems in sensitive people, Wolk said.

Volatile organic compounds can lead to ground-level ozone pollution, and parts of the state are in danger of violating federal ozone standards.

The Air Quality Control Commission is scheduled to study the proposal in February.