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Boulder County says new oil and gas requirements shared Friday fail climate goals

Colorado’s oil and gas industry will have to abide by new measures to reduce pollution and stop emissions leaks, following an Air Quality Control Commission revision announced Friday. But, Boulder County leaders said the requirements aren’t enough to make sure the state will meet its climate goals.

The new revisions to Colorado’s Leak Detection and Repair program require more frequent inspections and more prompt repairs to stop leaks at compressor stations and well production facilities. However, according to a Boulder County news release, the commission declined to approve stronger provisions proposed by state air quality experts or to strengthen provisions for pneumatic controllers, devices that open and close valves at production sites to regulate temperature and pressure.

While the new regulations will help move the state toward the goals set by HB21-1266, a 2021 environmental justice law, they fall short of the target to reduce emissions by 60% by 2030, the release said.

Cindy Copeland, Boulder County air and climate policy analyst, said in an email to the Camera on Saturday that the new requirements will mean increased leak detection and repair frequencies for more sites in the county. Previously, many smaller wells were only inspected once in their lifetime under state law, according to the release.

Boulder County’s own inspection program data show that wells leak repeatedly, and frequent inspections are critical to reducing methane emissions, the release said.

While Copeland said there are no compressor stations in Boulder County, there are many across the state. Copeland said all well sites in the county do use pneumatic controllers.

“By design, these controllers bleed a certain amount of oil and gas because they open and close to do such things as release pressure,” Copeland wrote. “Environmental Defense Fund’s alternate proposal for pneumatics, that the Air Quality Control Commission did not approve but we strongly supported, would have required retrofits with nonemitting pneumatics.”

As far as the timeline for implementation, Copeland wrote, the regulations have different implementation dates.

“Increased leak detection and repair at well sites will begin January 2023, and most other requirements will start in 2023, with some reporting requirements starting June 2022,” Copeland wrote.

In a phone interview Saturday, Boulder County Commissioner Matt Jones said he wasn’t satisfied with the requirements.

“It’s going to mean some direct controls, and they’re going to have to inspect more often for leaks, which is positive,” Jones said. “But, it falls far short. They didn’t do the frequency that needed to be inspected. They didn’t do the amount of controllers.”

Jones said more is needed to strengthen regulations and reduce pollution from oil and gas operations. He emphasized there is “no time to waste.”

“I think there will be a little more (accountability), but they need a lot more, though,” Jones said. “Our research that we have done here, shows that (wells) leak a lot, and they continue to leak even after they’re fixed. It’s an industry that thinks it’s great to pollute, and they play with methane, which is climate gas on steroids. They play with benzene and other chemicals that are precursors of ozone.”

In the news release, Boulder County Commissioner Marta Loachamin echoed this, saying the county has already experienced climate change impacts, including wildfires, flash flooding and extreme heat.

“The county has estimated that responding to only some of the potential effects of the climate crisis across Boulder County through 2050 will cost upwards of $157 million,” Loachamin said. “We need improved controls on the oil and gas industry to help local governments that are struggling to deal with the ill effects of the climate crisis and poor air quality.”

Boulder County Commissioner Claire Levy said in the release that the Air Quality Control Commission, “chose to weaken the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment proposal and did not adopt suggested requirements for pneumatic controllers.”

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the regulatory voice for the oil and natural gas industry, responded to the requirements in an American Petroleum Institute news release.

Dan Haley, Colorado Oil and Gas Association president and CEO, highlighted the cost the changes will bring to the industry.

“Colorado’s oil and natural gas workers have made incredible strides meeting our air emission goals, making our state one of the cleanest energy producers in the world,” Haley said in the release. “But to maintain that mantle, we need cost-effective rules rooted in science. The innovations and commitment proven by Colorado’s oil and natural gas workers will make these rules work, but make no mistake, the adopted rules will still add as much as $140 million per year to the cost of doing business, according to state estimates. That’s on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars added after last year’s rulemakings. These excessive costs threaten economic growth and competitiveness and will add to the rising energy costs faced by consumers domestically and abroad.”

In Boulder County, methane and ozone precursor pollutants have been monitored at the Boulder Reservoir since 2017. The county’s news release said that data from the site and modeling studies show air quality is heavily influenced by oil and gas development to the northeast. Similar patterns of influence from oil and gas have been noted in data collection by Broomfield and Longmont. This provides further proof that this industry contributes to high ozone levels and greenhouse gas emissions in the area, the release said.

Those interested in learning more about Boulder County’s sustainability and climate action mission can contact Christian Herrmann, climate communication specialist, at

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2021-12-18 21:14:44

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