Air Quality Control Rulemaking Fact Sheet

The Problem:

  • No family should have to wonder whether the air they are breathing is safe. Last year, federal regulators determined Denver’s air quality to be unhealthy for sensitive groups like children and the elderly to breathe – even under 20-year old standards of 75 parts per billion of ozone. The new standard is 70 parts per billion.
  • The Denver Metro area and the Front Range are out of compliance with federal ozone standards meaning that the Front Range’s ozone and air pollution levels are higher than they should be.
  • Oil and gas facilities in the Denver metropolitan area are the second largest source of manmade volatile organic compounds (VOCs such as Benzene, Toluene, Ethyl benzene and Xylene) which in conjunction with oxides of nitrogen contribute to ozone pollution.
  • Benzene, Toluene, Ethyl benzene and Xylene are also hazardous air pollutants. Benzene is known to cause cancer.
  • Hydrocarbons containing a mixture of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) that form ground level smog in the presence of sunlight. This ground level ozone or smog contributes to health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, congestion, and premature mortality. Children, the elderly, and those who work or recreate outside are most at risk.
  • Methane is also contained in oil and gas emissions. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. One molecule of methane is 84 times more potent in terms of heat-trapping than one molecule of carbon dioxide when compared over a 20-year time-frame.
  • In 2015, statewide reports by the EPA indicated that statewide oil and gas production activities emitted more than 201,868 metric tons of methane – the actual amount of methane emissions released from oil and gas facilities is likely much larger as emissions from compressor stations, processing plants, pipelines, and distribution facilities are not included.
  • Oil and gas facilities intentionally release hydrocarbons through venting and flaring and unintentionally through leaks as part of day-to-day operations.

These risks are being felt by Coloradans across the Front Range

  • The Front Range is currently in violation of federal ozone standards that protect public health, posing a significant health risk to children, seniors, and people with asthma.
  • According to a recent study, each summer, kids are suffering more than 30,000 asthma attacks in Colorado that are linked to smog pollution from the oil and gas industry.
  • On the growing Front Range, wells can be sited as close as 500 feet from homes., increased inspections are critical to health and safety.
  • Between 2006 and 2015, a total of 116 fires and explosions in Colorado were reported at oil and gas operations.1 In many communities, the local school is the location where the most people in town are congregated. But these are not just high occupancy buildings, these are high occupancy sites – inside and outside of the buildings.
  • Just last month, in Greeley, an equipment failure on a gas compressor resulted in a gas leak, which forced the evacuation of the Football Stadium during a football game. The incident required 5 fire trucks, 19 fire fighters, and oil and gas workers to shut off the well, and ensure the safety of the area. A representative of the industry stated that, “the valve, which was a quarter-inch in diameter failed, and frankly, that happens regularly in the field.” Greeley Tribune Legacy Elementary School, Frederick, Colorado.
  • On April 16, 2014, students and teachers at the Legacy Elementary School were ordered to “shelter in place” because of nearby storage tank explosion.2 Three fire units were deployed and the fire was extinguished in three hours. Fortunately, the fire was more than 1,700 feet away from the school. Larger oil and gas facilities are located as close as 355 feet from Legacy Elementary, and there are 19 active wells within 1,000 feet of the school.
  • The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission recently initiated a proposal to bring our state air quality in to compliance with federal standards. The proposed rule – Rule 7 – if strengthened in a few key ways will go a long way toward protecting the health and welfare of Colorado families.
  • If the new rule includes stronger reporting requirement for oil and gas site equipment such as for compressors and pneumatic controllers, replacing outdated equipment with new zero-emission components (such as zero emitting pneumatic controllers; replacement of gas powered pumps; and a more robust inspection schedule of well sites on the part of operators. Specifically, it will require the following changes on the Front Range:
    • Increase the frequency of leak inspections to annual for the smallest permitted well sites and semi-annual for the next smallest sites
    • Increase the frequency of leak inspections from annual to quarterly for the smallest compressor stations
    • Require the control of emissions from natural gas powered pneumatic pumps
  • These numbers are probably lower than the actual number of fires and explosions that occurred because Colorado only requires self-reporting of incidents that have caused harm to a member of the general public or fires and explosions that caused significant damage.

2 Blair Shiff, OIL TANK CATCHES ON FIRE NEAR FREDERICK, 9News, April 16, 2014. Available at:

http://www.9news.com/story/news/local/2014/04/16/tank-fire-frederick/7776009/  See also COGCC

inspection report from April 16, 2014. Available at:

http://165.127.23.127/DownloadDocument.aspx?DocumentId=3323042

 

  • Add a new provision that requires operators inspect, and conduct maintenance on, improperly operating pneumatic controllers.
  • The new rule also proposes a stakeholder process that will evaluate the need for adopting additional STATEWIDE hydrocarbon controls over the next 24 months. The 24-month stakeholder process is an important step in ensuring that our state keep pace with the best available technology to control air emissions and improve air quality for all of Colorado.
  • We must reduce methane emissions to improve our air quality, slow the rate of climate change. Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission is currently considering whether to strengthen air pollution standards for oil and gas facilities.
  • It is incumbent on the State to ensure that oil and gas operators minimize VOC emissions and improve our air quality and to protect public health, welfare, and the environment.
  • Reducing our methane emissions through updated technology and increased inspections programs is cost effective. Colorado’s leak detection and repair program has been a success, and because methane (natural gas) is kept in the pipelines, it has saved the industry money.
  • More inspections of oil and gas facilities will also lead to safer locations. Oil and gas locations near homes and schools should not be allowed to leak hazardous pollutants like Benzene. Preventing gas leaks can prevent accidents as well.

Furthermore

  • Colorado has been a leader when it comes to our air in the past. In 2014, Colorado led the country by adopting the first methane rules for new and existing oil and gas facilities. These standards paved the way for updated methane standards at the federal level for both the EPA and the BLM.
  • Given that the current federal administration is trying to role back the EPA and BLM methane emissions standards, it is more important than ever that Colorado continue to be a leader in cleaning up our air.
  • The Air Quality Control Commission is taking input from Coloradans like you. On October 19, they will hold a public hearing starting at 8:30 a.m. to take your input on how to better protect our air.