EARTHWORKS

Colorado Air Pollution from Oil and Gas

Oil and gas development is contributing to a decline in Colorado air quality

The Colorado Air Pollution Control Division has observed that ozone levels in rural areas are gradually increasing along with increasing oil and gas exploration and development. In some areas, ozone levels are approaching (and occasionally exceeding) the federal standard of 0.08 parts per million (ppm) or 80 parts per billion. In southwestern Colorado, air monitors in Mesa Verde National Park show that smog levels have steadily risen in the last decade, with some of the highest readings being recorded in the last two years.

The Colorado Air Pollution Control Division reports that during the period 2000-2005, the following maximum ozone levels were measured:

Air pollution from oil and gas development is significant - and it's on the rise

Smog forming compounds and other air toxics are released at every stage of oil and gas development. Drilling rigs emit a variety of air pollutants including NOx, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. During well completion, tons of VOCs may be vented or flared. Oil and natural gas condensate tanks and glycol dehydrators release VOCs. Compressor stations emit a variety of ozone-forming compounds, as well as other air pollutants. And according to data compiled by Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, a single EnCana natural gas processing plant in Rio Blanco County has the potential to release nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds equal to the emissions from 43,000 cars!

Below are three examples of significant sources of air pollution from oil and gas operations in Colorado:

Data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's oil and gas emissions inventory show that VOC emissions from existing oil and gas facilities are increasing statewide. Based upon the inventory data for 2004 and 2005, oil and gas production facilities are responsible for more than 50% of all VOCs released from stationary sources in the state of Colorado.

According to Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, in some counties, such as Garfield, Las Animas, Rio Blanco, and San Miguel, oil and gas production facilities are responsible for more than 90% of all smog-forming compounds released by stationary sources.

County

Total smog forming compounds from stationary sources (tons/year)

Total smog forming compounds from oil and gas

Contribution of oil and gas to pollution

Delta

139

46

33%

Dolores

143

112

78%

Garfield

7522

7174

95%

La Plata

718

485

68%

Las Animas

453

419

92%

Mesa

1340

506

38%

Rio Blanco

2778

2696

97%

San Miguel

542

501

93%

Weld

53372

50731

95%

Oil and gas development continues to expand throughout Colorado. As of early September, 2006, the COGCC was receiving, on average, more than 100 additional well permit applications per month, statewide, as compared to its monthly average during 2005. Of the 2006 permit applications received, more than 54% are in counties where, up until December, 2006, there were no restrictions on VOC emissions.

In December, 2006, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission approved several
new restrictions on the oil and gas industry in an effort to curb emissions of ozone-forming compounds affecting air quality across the state and in the Denver region. Read more about the 2006 Air Quality Rule Changes.

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

Source: Todd Hartman. Dec. 418, 2006. "Air Panel OKs New Controls on Oil, Gas Industry Pollution." Rocky Mountain News.


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