As county commissioners representing both sides of the Continental Divide, we know that by working together we can ensure strong protections for our air and climate to the benefit of all Coloradans.
This December, the Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) will consider strong new rules to cut methane and air pollution from oil and gas operations across the state.
This is a statewide problem that deserves a comprehensive approach, even if our respective regions may face unique challenges.
For instance, communities in Adams County and along the northern Front Range continue to see dozens of ozone action alerts. And now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to reclassify the Denver Metro Area and northern Front Range as “serious” for failing to meet federal ozone standards.
Simply put, ozone is unhealthy for people to breathe. Alerts warning people to stay indoors and reduce outdoor activities are issued when air quality measuring stations indicate ozone exceeds safe levels.
The consequences of exposure to ozone can be significant, forcing healthy adults to alter their lifestyles and threatening the health of elderly residents and children.
In fact, ozone can trigger asthma attacks, worsen other respiratory diseases such as emphysema and increase the risk of heart attacks and heart disease.
According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the oil and gas industry is a leading contributor of ozone-related pollution along the Front Range.
The industry is also a major source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas responsible for about 25% of the climate change we are experiencing today. As Colorado experiences longer, hotter and drier summers, it will exacerbate our ozone pollution challenges.
The Four Corners region became a “methane hot spot” when NASA first discovered a 2,400-square-mile methane cloud in 2014 hovering over the San Juan Basin, which includes La Plata County.
Subsequent studies found that the oil and gas industry is the primary contributor to observed sources of methane emissions.
The effects of climate change accelerated by methane emissions will have big economic impacts on the West Slope such as longer, more intense wildfire seasons threatening our health and homes and shorter, less predictable winters affecting our ski and winter recreation industry.
These climate-related challenges are not some future threat that climatologists are predicting. They are here now.
And while ozone pollution challenges on the West Slope are not as acute, the American Lung Association has given La Plata County an “F” for ozone pollution for two straight years in their annual State of the Air Report. Many other energy-producing counties on the West Slope received a “C” or lower in 2019 including Gunnison, Mesa and Garfield.
Colorado has already taken great strides to address methane and air pollution from the oil and gas industry. In 2014, we became the first state in the nation to adopt standards regulating hydrocarbon methane emissions.
Three years later, stricter rules regulating hydrocarbons were implemented in Adams County and other Front Range counties because they didn’t meet federal ozone standards. While those rules have helped reduce emissions, we haven’t yet solved our methane and ozone problem.
Since Colorado adopted statewide rules in 2014 and stronger rules for the Denver Metro Area and Front Range in 2017, oil and gas production has continued to rise. This proves that we can have strong rules to protect our climate as well as more responsible development.
As local, elected leaders representing two very different areas of Colorado, we urge the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt stronger, statewide standards to protect Coloradans living in both rural and urban areas and our climate on both the Front Range and West Slope.
Eva Henry is an Adams County commissioner. Gwen Lachelt is a La Plata County commissioner.