Mountain States

Colorado Air Regulator Walks Back Denver Post Story on 90 Day “Loophole”

Colorado’s top air quality regulator took issue with recent media portrayals of the state’s emissions regulations during the Air Quality Control Commission monthly meeting Thursday.

During the “Director’s Report” portion of the meeting, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Air Pollution Control Division Head Garry Kaufman offered clarity around a recent Denver Post article that made it seem like oil and gas companies are allowed to spew “toxic air pollution” for 90 days without any consequences.  EID also set the record straight on that article last week.

Kaufman clarifies Colorado’s emissions regulations.

 Kaufman explained why such an exemption exists, and why the Post’s characterization of the exemption was flawed:

“The rationale behind that provision is that, unlike most facilities, when you start thinking about drilling a well or a series of wells, you don’t know what the production is going to be.  You don’t really control that.  You don’t know what the emissions are going to be because you don’t know what the production is going to be. So the thought when this was put into place was that, we’ll allow the company to start the drilling, start production, get an idea of what the emissions are and then move forward with the permitting once we have the data that’s necessary to do all the calculations on what the limits are going to be.”

As Kaufman explained, the reason Colorado doesn’t issue the specific permit in question until 90 days out is to make the permitting process more efficient and streamlined. Since it is difficult to predict what the production will actually be at the onset of development, it is also difficult to accurately predict emissions at that point. Thus, instead of issuing one permit initially and then revisiting the site six months later to issue another permit, the state waits until the emissions levels are known so efforts don’t have to be duplicated. When asked, Kaufman confirmed that other states follow different guidelines, but most wait to issue permits.

The Post’s article failed to mention all of the state-level regulations that are put into place immediately that do not allow for blind, unaccountable emissions levels.  Kaufman continued:

“…[E]ven though we don’t have the permitting during that initial period of time, the Commission’s regulations do provide that these facilities be well controlled from the moment production starts. So there’s requirements that the tanks are controlled … there’s requirements that they use the low bleed pneumatics. The whole suite of Reg 7 requirements that we’ve put in place apply to these facilities notwithstanding the fact that they don’t have a permit.”

CDPHE has responded to numerous activist complaints with onsite inspections.

Activist group WildEarth Guardians has filed numerous lawsuits claiming excessive emissions from well sites in the state. But as Kaufman explained, his team has conducted on site investigations at these sites, finding that “in each and every instance they had the required control equipment, it was operating properly and there weren’t emissions issues.”

Surrounding the fight over SB-181, Colorado’s air quality has been brought into question by proponents of stricter regulations.  Kaufman acknowledged that there is more work to do and called the bill’s directives important for the state; however, he also emphasized the immense progress Colorado has made over the past few decades during a time when production has boomed:

“I think it’s misleading and inaccurate to say that we haven’t made a lot of gains in the air quality environment for oil and gas…. we’ve seen a huge increase in production – probably 5- 6-, 7-fold, since 2004 – doubling in the last few years. And in the face of that increase, in particular since we passed the 2014 regulations, we see almost an exponential growth in production and have cut the emissions concentrations in half, which speaks a lot to the effectiveness of the regulation.”  (emphasis added).

These comments echo testimony he gave during SB-181 hearings.

As one of Colorado’s top air regulators further demonstrates with his recent comments, it’s important to take claims made by activist organizations like WildEarth Guardians with a grain of salt. After all, this isn’t the first time the group and other haves omitted critical information to spin their preferred narrative, and as Kaufman explained, the reality of Colorado’s oil and gas development is vastly different than these groups would have the public believe.

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