In Colorado late last year, Noble Energy and Environmental Defense Fund, came together with two of the state’s other largest energy producers, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Encana Corp., to support new state and air regulations—the strongest rules governing oil and natural gas emissions in the U.S. We believe this rare and effective collaboration between what some might call unlikely allies represents a model for others to follow when developing regulations to effectively address air quality and climate change.
After input from a wide range of stakeholders—from local communities to other environmental groups and oil and natural gas companies—the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission adopted the new rules on Feb. 23 with minimal changes. The rules will protect air quality and public health, while enabling responsible, economic energy development. Adoption of these rules sends a clear message: Americans can have the energy they need, the economy they want, and the environment they deserve.
Natural gas is an abundant energy resource and economic driver for Colorado and the nation that offers promise from a climate perspective. When burned, natural gas produces about half of the carbon dioxide of coal, and far fewer conventional pollutants. And with burgeoning new supplies of shale gas reducing prices for the resource, the nation has seen a shift from coal to natural gas for electricity generation—a transition that has helped reduce carbon-dioxide emissions in the U.S. to the lowest levels since 1991.
How energy companies and environmentalists in Colorado found common ground.
However, the cleaner-burning advantage of natural gas can be undermined by venting and leaks in equipment used to produce and transport it. Natural gas is primarily methane, a powerful green-house gas, and contains volatile organic compounds that can cause smog. This pollution is one reason there has been opposition to the oil and natural gas development around the country. Yet in Colorado, environmental, industry and state representatives have demonstrated it is possible to work together to agree on strong safeguards and then put them in place, even over the opposition of those who say the rules go too far, or not far enough.
No regulation will please everybody. But keeping methane in the right pipe and out of the air is the right thing to do. Colorado’s newly adopted rules set forth science based, common-sense emissions-reduction measures. They will help the state curb tens of thousands tons of air pollution every year – equivalent to taking every vehicle in Colorado off the road. And they include several “firsts”:
- Direct regulation of methane (some previous rules achieved methane reduction as a co-benefit of reducing other pollutants, but it was never targeted directly until now).
- Dramatic reductions in “fugitive” emissions (equipment leaks) through the nation’s strongest leak-detection and repair program, which includes requirements for monthly inspection at the largest sources.
- Statewide requirements apply not only to new wells but also to existing sources, which will be retrofitted with low emitting equipment.
- Statewide requirements to target reductions from under regulated well-maintenance activities such as “liquids unloading”, when producing wells are cleared of water and other liquids inhibiting the flow of natural gas.
Colorado already requires the state’s oil and natural gas producers to use technologies to control hydrocarbon emissions during the well-completion phase, rather than vent emissions as is allowed elsewhere in the U.S. The new rules build on that important foundation.
The members of the Air Quality Control Commission deserve enormous credit for the integrity and strength of the rules. So does Gov. John Hickenlooper for his vision and leadership in the building a collaborative process that developed something extraordinary for the state and its citizens.
We signed up to actively participate in this process because it’s the right thing to do for our communities, our economy and our way of life. We believe that energy companies have a responsibility to minimize risk risks and adopt leading practices. Industry, activists and the state have an obligation to ensure that companies develop, produce and transport oil and natural gas in the most responsible manner.
This collaborative effort is evidence of a new way of thinking and of doing business that can have meaningful implications for America’s energy future. Call it the Colorado can-do mind-set. It shows we’re serious about working together to create a healthier climate for business and environment, not just in Colorado, but throughout our increasingly energy-independent country.
Mr. Krupp is president of the environmental Defense Fund. Mr. Davidson is chairmen and CEO of Noble Energy.
Krupp, Fred and Charles Davidson “Unusual Allies on Green Legislation” Wall Street Journal Washington 6 March 2014 Published: 1. Print. (Link)