Methane is responsible for about 25% of the climate change we’re experiencing today. IEA has clarified: no new wells! For existing ones, we need an enforcement system that responds to community concerns with definitive, timely action to reduce harmful emissions.

It’s time to recommit to controlling methane emissions to combat climate change: We need urgent action to curb oil and gas pollutants that threaten our health, especially for those living closest to development. Dan Grossman, Colorado Sun, May 15, 2021.

latest IEA report (confirms we need zero new fossil fuel investments to reach net zero by 2050), “It’s Time to Kick Gas”  The International Energy Agency (IEA), the world’s leading energy authority, laid bare the scale of the challenge in keeping the world on track to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050: a massive acceleration in renewable energy development and, starkly, no new oil, gas or coal development. None. IEA Report: Analysis from Oil Change on IEA report: – The industry should have to put up money to cover well closure and remediation.  As it is, Colorado is on the hook for billions due to failure of fiduciary responsibility to Coloradans

Half of the US top biggest methane emitters are in Colorado.  They include little-known oil and gas producers that buy larger companies’ high-polluting assets and private equity firms that sell off fossil fuel properties.(NYT, June 2021) and  The Polis Administration and their Orwellian GHG Reduction Roadmap plans for INCREASING fossil fuel production by a similar amount to what scientists and international organizations agree need to be REDUCED annually, on average.

Over 50% of wells in Colorado are low production stripper wells. In the Permian Basin basin it is 70-80%. 

Every well needs to have full bonding. Over 50% of wells in Colorado are low production stripper wells. More marginal wells are the most dangerous (most likely to become orphaned, can be super-emitters even) and in most need of full bonding. They should not receive special treatment under a Financial Assurances rulemaking.

Case study for Gov. Polis: Do more to stop oil & gas pollution in Colorado, Andrew Klooster, May 26, 2021

Oil & gas pollution must stop in Colorado. The Polis administration has made promises, but to keep them the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) must do far, far better to protect health and climate.

This is a story of one chronic polluter in Colorado. This incident is not uncommon.

In January of this year, Earthworks investigated  an oil and gas facility north of Fort Collins at the behest of a community member who was concerned about frequent odors and subsequent headaches. 

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Optical gas image of oil and gas pollution in Larimer County, CO.

At the site, our optical gas imaging (OGI) camera documented emissions from waste water storage tanks on site (often called “produced water” by industry). 

Earthworks filed a complaint with the CDPHE and some of the community members did as well. This prompted an official investigation, which found the tanks to be in poor condition and leaking. The operator made repairs to the tanks and everyone celebrated a successful enforcement process. Except that it wasn’t…

The community members continued to smell odors and so, a month later, Earthworks revisited the site and found other leaking equipment–this time from a set of crude oil storage tanks on site.  Our findings were confirmed by the CDPHE, and the operator again committed to make repairs. 

Problem solved?

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Optical gas image of oil and gas pollution in Larimer County, CO.

A few weeks later, doing our due diligence, Earthworks returned to the site. We found pollution emissions from the exact same crude oil tanks that CDPHE had confirmed were leaking and the operator committed to repair.  We filed another complaint, CDPHE investigated, and the operator made additional repairs to the tanks between the time we visited and a CDPHE investigator arrived on site to look for leaks.

We looked at the site again a few weeks ago and, for the first time, found no emissions from the tanks. The community members also report that they have not been smelling odors or experiencing health impacts. 

Subsequently, we have learned, through a CDPHE inspection report in 2019, that similar emissions from these tanks had been discovered in November 2018, June 2019, and October 2019, and that after the first two instances the operator failed to make the necessary repairs for months.

This case is illustrative of the size and scale of the oil and gas pollution problem in Colorado. The status quo of how industry operates is an existential threat to climate and a continuous harm to human health. Meanwhile, a lack of resources and slow-to-change culture of state regulators requires advocates and community members to work tirelessly to stop pollution from just a single source.

If CDPHE and the Polis administration want to demonstrate that their priority is the health and safety of Coloradans rather than business as usual for oil and gas, we suggest starting with an enforcement system that responds to community concerns with definitive, timely action to reduce harmful emissions.

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Optical gas image of pollution in Larimer County, CO.

** EDF, Dan Grossman, May 2021

Eric Edwards uses a device to detect methane escaping the ground near a methane capture power production facility at the former site of the Elk Creek coal mine outside Somerset Colo., Monday January 25, 2021. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Coloradans have been at the forefront of curbing methane waste and pollution from oil and gas operations and their impact on public health and climate change. So it should come as no surprise the Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and Rep. Diana DeGette are playing lead roles in advancing federal methane policy.

Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is responsible for about 25% of the climate change we’re experiencing today. The impacts of climate change here in the West include intense wildfires, longer wildfire seasons, persistent drought, an increase in pests carrying vector-borne diseases, lower livestock and crop yields, and severe weather events.

In 2014, Colorado became the first state in the nation to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas sector (but 70-80% of wells in the Denver-Julesberg basin are stripper wells and exempt). Even then, the rule prevented millions of tons of pollution from contaminating our air and climate while industry has continued to prosper. In fact, industry and environmentalists came together and strengthened Colorado’s methane rules three times in the ensuing years. The Colorado story on methane was so compelling, that in 2016 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cribbed from our rules to craft a comprehensive policy for operators across the country. 

Like its Colorado predecessor, the EPA program centered on a common-sense requirement that oil and gas companies inspect their equipment for leaks on a regular basis and fix those leaks expeditiously. Because fixing leaks means more gas in the sales line, most oil and gas operators easily complied with the new requirements for new and modified facilities without complaint or fanfare.

Inexplicably, and over the objections of environmentalists and even many leading oil and gas companies, the Trump EPA rolled back the methane rule in September 2020. The new policy wrote methane out of the oil and gas air regulations and completely exempted the pipelines and other equipment in the transmission and storage segment of the natural gas supply chain.

The Biden administration has already signaled its intent to return to sensible methane policy by directing the EPA to unravel the Trump rollbacks. But because of the highly problematic and legally questionable findings and conclusions codified by the Trump EPA, that process could be complicated and time-consuming.

But Congress, by using the Congressional Review Act, can rescind the Trump rule and provide the Biden EPA a clean slate to get methane regulation back on track and address pollution from new and existing oil and gas facilities.

In March, Rep. DeGette and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) introduced resolutions that would invoke the CRA to rescind the Trump rule. And on April 28, Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper helped pass the resolution on a rare bipartisan Senate vote.

Sen. Bennet had this to say about the vote’s importance: “This important methane policy to us on the bipartisan course we need to create if we’re going to have durable climate change policy in this country and if America is going to lead the world.”

This is the urgent action we need to curb oil and gas pollution like methane and other toxic pollutants that threaten our health, especially for those living closest to development. When methane is released into the air, so are toxic pollutants, like benzene (a known human carcinogen), and smog-forming pollutants that can trigger asthma.

Support for reducing oil and gas methane waste is widespread and bipartisan. Even leading oil and gas companies and organizations including Shell, BP, Equinor, EQT, Total, Jonah Energy, Cheniere, Occidental Petroleum Equitrans Midstream, and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America all support using the Congressional Review Act to rescind the problematic policies adopted by the previous administration.

I applaud our leaders in Washington for taking this crucial step to reinstate vital climate and clean air protections, and clear a thicket of red tape that would otherwise delay EPA from tightening these standards and reign in oil and gas pollution.

It’s time to get regulation of methane from the oil and gas industry back on track, and I commend Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper for their votes and urge other members of the state’s delegation to join Rep. DeGette as part of the growing chorus of support for this resolution.

Dan Grossman is the Environmental Defense Fund’s senior director of state advocacy for EDF’s Energy Program and a former Colorado state senator from Denver.