Background on Colorado Oil and Gas Air Quality Regulations

How air quality related to oil and gas is regulated

The Air Pollution Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is resposible for regulating air pollution emissions from oil and gas facilities operating in Colorado.

Recent changes to oil and gas air quality regulations (2004)

Denver has an air pollution problem. The concentrations of ground-level ozone (also known as smog) are so high that they occasionally exceed the acceptable level set by the federal government (the national 8-Hour Ozone Standard is 0.08 parts per million). Ground-level ozone, which is unhealthy to breathe, is formed when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) mix with oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and other pollutants in the presence of sunlight.

In 2004, Colorado developed an Ozone Action Plan, which was designed to quickly reduce VOC emissions so that the state would remain in compliance with the federal 8-hour Ozone Standard.

Part of Colorado's Ozone Action Plan involved the adoption of Section XII of Air Quality Control Commission Regulation Number 7 - "Emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds." This provision limited the amount of VOCs that could be emitted from oil and gas condensate storage tanks in an area surrounding Denver ("8-hour Ozone Control Area"). VOC emissions from condensate storage tanks in the area were to be reduced so that they would not exceed 91.3 tons per day (tpd) for the period from May 1 through September 30 (the "ozone season") in 2007, and would not exceed 100.9 tpd for the 2012 ozone season.

In 2005, the state Air Pollution Control Division reviewed data on emissions from oil and gas facilities and found that VOC emissions were significantly higher than had been anticipated in the Ozone Action Plan. The Division concluded that the emission reductions required under the current regulation were not going to keep the area below the 91.3 ton-per-day cap for 2007 as set forth in the Ozone Action Plan.

The Division also found that unanticipated increases in VOC and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions due to oil and gas expansion in several areas of the State were contributing to high ozone levels in the Denver area and elsewhere in the State.

It is clear that if the oil and gas industry continues to emit VOCs at current levels, that parts of the state will exceed the federal ozone standard, which will endanger public health, as well as place a heavy burden on state regulators to develop detailed plan to address the problem.

Recent changes to the air quality regulations (2006)

On December 17, 2006, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) adopted regulations to reduce oil and gas industry emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide in both the Front Range Early Action Compact Area, and to a lesser extent, statewide.

The AQCC adopted the rules after two hearings, which were well attended by citizens, environmental organizations and the oil and gas industry. A number of citizens provided testimony on health effects being experienced by people living in oil and gas producing areas; and several citizens' and environmental groups provided testimony about the known health impacts of many oil and gas chemicals and equipment emissions.

Several Air Quality Control Commissioners voiced the need to begin addressing the health risks posed by oil and gas industry emissions as a reason to adopt more stringent air quality rules.

Under the new rules, VOCs from the most polluting condensate tanks would be reduced by 95%, and VOCs from the most polluting glycol dehydrators would be reduced by 90%. Additionally, VOCs, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide from combustion engines that are rated at 100 horsepower or higher would eventually be reduced by 75%.

According to an article in the Rocky Mountain News, the new rule includes:

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