Colorado Proposes Reducing Methane Leaks From Energy Production

By Neela Banerjee
Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON _ Colorado proposed new rules Monday to reduce methane leaks from oil and gas operations, the first effort in the country to address emissions of the greenhouse gas that is a by-product of the domestic fossil fuel boom.
Carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels is the main driver of climate change, but while less methane is emitted overall, it is an even more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon. Emissions in the United States of methane dropped slightly from 2011 to 2012. But methane emissions from oil and gas operations have risen in Colorado and other states where energy production is roaring, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The state has rules in place to curb emissions of methane, the primary component of natural gas, during drilling. The new rules call for detecting and repairing leaks of methane throughout a company's infrastructure once a well is producing: at equipment at the well-site, above-ground pipelines and at compressor stations.
"The rules will help Colorado prepare for anticipated growth in energy development, while protecting public health and the environment," Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement. "They represent a significant step forward in addressing a wider range of emissions that before now have not been directly regulated."
The rules would also reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, an air pollutant that can be created from the burning of fossil fuels. Because high output of VOCs tracks with high methane pollution, the new rules base their monitoring requirements on the tons of VOCs companies generate annually.
Under the rules, the bigger the polluter, the more often it has to monitor its infrastructure for leaks, which must be repaired within 15 days. Companies must report their repairs and allow state inspectors to check facilities for leaks.
The proposed rules were drawn up in discussions between the state, the Environmental Defense Fund and three major oil and gas producers, Noble Energy, Encana and Anadarko. The state will be taking public comment on them for 90 days and a public hearing will be held on the rules in February 2014.
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