Coloradans care about our air. Since our state’s earliest days, the quality of our air has been as important as our mountains, our wide-open spaces and our Denver Broncos.
Think about it: More than 100 years ago, Americans actually forged West to settle into Colorado, many believing the dry, clean air would heal sick lungs and aid in their struggles with tuberculosis. Our state became known as “the world’s sanatorium.”
However, over the past century as millions more moved here to enjoy our beautiful spaces and to live an outdoor lifestyle straight out of a Mountain Dew commercial, it has become increasingly challenging to keep Colorado’s air clean and free from smog, ozone and other pollutants.
But as Coloradans, it’s a challenge we must meet.
While Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry just wrapped up a massive air rulemaking in December, this spring and summer state regulators will once again debate additional regulations concerning air quality, emissions and air monitoring – many focused on our industry.
Coloradans deserve to know that our oil and natural gas industry and our local workers care about the quality of our air. Not just because we live here and breathe the same air, but because it’s the right thing to do. We are committed to the cause.
The good news, which you don’t often hear, is that even though we have added an extra 3 million people to this state in recent decades, Colorado’s air quality is better today than it was 30 years ago.
As it relates to oil and natural gas, two important truths must be spoken:
- Despite inaccurate rhetoric intended to mislead Coloradans, ozone levels along the Front Range have steadily improved over the past 20 years, according to the Regional Air Quality Council (RAQC) and the state’s health department.
- State regulators, industry and others have taken thousands of air quality measurements near Colorado oil and natural gas sites in recent years, and no measurement attributable to oil and natural gas has been above EPA or health guideline values.
While our air quality is improving, we still face real challenges in Colorado.
Let’s start with ozone. The state’s Air Pollution Control Division and the RAQC recently stated in a letter to the EPA that “the majority of ozone concentrations in the [Nonattainment Area] are the result of emissions outside of the State’s control, including naturally occurring emissions and emissions transported from other states and countries.”
This is a critical point, because it explains why meeting ever-tightening federal ozone standards is so difficult within our particular nonattainment area along the Front Range. Our state’s topography and weather patterns are unique, and that means if we are going to meet federal requirements, it will require all of us doing our part.
In 2014, Colorado adopted first-of-their-kind rules aimed at reducing emissions from oil and natural gas production facilities. Those regulations later served as a model for many of the provisions adopted by EPA.
In 2017, Colorado also became the first state in the country to adopt EPA’s “Control Technique Guidelines (CTG) for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry,” which included new requirements for pneumatic pumps and expanded leak and repair provisions.
These new CTGs put Colorado’s air quality regulations for the oil and natural gas sector leaps and bounds beyond requirements of any other state. In fact, with the inclusion of the December 2019 rulemaking, it’s unlikely there are tougher air quality regulations anywhere in the world.
Oil and gas has been part of this journey from the beginning and data verifies our success. A recent state health study confirmed there are no increased risks of cancer or other long-term health effects from emissions related to oil and natural gas development, disproving the fear mongering and political rhetoric aimed at shutting down our industry.
In fact, the state’s health department used its state-of-the-art Colorado Air Monitoring Mobile Lab (CAMML) to collect 5,000 samples near oil and natural gas well pads in the past few years alone.
Adhering to existing Colorado setback standards, none of those mobile lab measurements included a single air concentration that would cause short- or long-term health impacts.
While that recent health department study referenced a health guideline value of 30 parts per billion (ppb) for benzene, the highest confirmed measurement near oil and natural gas well pads is 8.6 ppb, which scientists and regulators have deemed as an acceptable limit.
Recent headlines and rhetoric fueled by politics rather than science and data have unfairly and inaccurately defined energy development in Colorado.
But, despite the hyperbole, we’ve seen decades worth of regulatory improvements and technological innovations that are working here.
While the challenges are real, our local oil and natural gas industry remains committed to clean air, and our emission reduction efforts demonstrates that commitment.
We all breathe the same air, and Colorado’s oil and natural gas employees are working overtime to make sure our air is clean and the communities where we live and work remain safe, allowing us all to enjoy the environment that we value.
Dan Haley is President and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.