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Opinion: To reduce ozone, cut emissions at the source

Direct regulation is the best way to get reluctant oil and gas operators to reduce harmful methane

At October’s Air Quality Control Commission monthly meeting, staff from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment presented its report on the 2021 ozone season. If you lived anywhere along the Front Range during this past summer, you can probably guess what the report said.

Laurie Anderson

To no one’s surprise, it was the worst ozone year ever recorded. Ozone rates have been on a steady increase over the last three years, and CDPHE staff expressed no optimism that the trend would reverse in 2022. In fact, because of climate change, we can expect hotter days that will exacerbate the ozone problem.

It’s clear that we must make rapid progress on reducing the pollution that contributes to ozone formation.

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Ozone is a powerful lung irritant that triggers asthma attacks, increases the risk of lung infections, and interferes with normal lung development. It forms when certain chemicals in the air react with heat and sunlight. While beneficial high up in the atmosphere where it shields us from harmful UV rays, at ground level, ozone causes considerable harm and can trigger asthma attacks and increase the risk of and worsen respiratory diseases like emphysema. It’s especially harmful to the health of children, older adults, and those with underlying health conditions. 

Enough is enough. As a mom, a Broomfield City Councilmember, and a Coloradan, I don’t want anyone in Colorado to have another summer of missed outdoor adventures because of unhealthy air.

Sure, the record-setting wildfires in the West impacted our air quality, but we were having Ozone Alert Days well before that smoke reached Colorado’s skies. According to data from the Regional Air Quality Council, our air pollution set several unfortunate records this summer including 74 Ozone Action Alert days. The monitor at Chatfield State park hit an astounding 101 parts per billion (ppb) of ozone.

The federal ozone standard is 70 ppb, and public health experts state that impacts can occur from repeated exposures as low as 60 ppb. This is not healthy for any of us, especially our children, older Coloradans and those who live in disproportionately impacted communities.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research found that tailpipe pollution from cars, trucks and other internal combustion engines, and oil and gas operations were the largest sources of ozone-forming volatile organic compounds on the Front Range.

We can and should follow the recommendations of what individuals can do: work from home, walk, bike, use public transportation, mow and refuel at night — or better yet, go electric. And we must keep taking action to reduce tailpipe emissions.

But none of this is enough.

The oil and gas industry must cut its significant pollution to clean up our air on the Front Range. This includes methane and volatile organic compounds, which are the “ozone precursors” that combine with NOx, heat and sunlight in the atmosphere to form ozone. We can and should address this problem by strengthening existing standards that directly cut methane emissions.

Unfortunately, many oil and gas operators are opposed to stronger standards that directly address methane and other air pollution. We must do more to protect our children’s health and ensure they will have a healthy and safe future by having a system in place to both measure emissions and verify reductions.

This month, the Air Quality Control Commission will have the opportunity to adopt nation-leading direct regulations helping Colorado get closer to achieving our state’s goal of reducing the oil and gas contribution to climate pollution by 60 percent by 2030. 

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We can clean up our air by strengthening leak detection and repair standards, to either bimonthly or monthly for mid-to-large oil and gas sites, and at least annually for smaller wellsites. Fortunately, the Air Pollution Control Division has put forward a national-leading proposal to find and fix leaks, along with prohibiting the deliberate release of methane during maintenance activities. The Air Quality Control Commission can and should adopt those proposals, along with the expanded use of non-polluting equipment known as zero-bleed pneumatic devices for the entire industry. 

Our state has a tremendous opportunity in front of it. Let’s use the tools and technologies we have now that will work. Direct regulation will help clean up oil and gas pollution, and the data can provide transparency about our air quality.

Direct regulation is a faster, safer and more certain way to clean up the air and meet our state’s climate goals. I ask the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt direct, strong and comprehensive methane rules this December that will ensure we hit our emission reductions targets for the oil and gas sector, to help protect our children’s health and future.


Laurie Anderson, of Broomfield, is a member of the Broomfield City Council, and a Colorado field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force.


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