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Colorado to control methane leaks from energy production

19 November 2013

The state of Colorado proposed new rules on November 18 to reduce methane leaks from oil and gas operations. The statewide regulations are the first of their kind to be proposed in the United States, Governor John Hickenlooper told a gathering of media, oil and gas industry executives, and environmentalists.

The proposed rules were drawn up in discussions between the state; the Environmental Defense Fund; and three major oil and gas producers, Noble Energy, Encana and Anadarko. The state will take public comment on the proposal for 90 days, and a public hearing will be held in February.

They will require stringent monitoring of methane leaks from oil and gas operations and could cost Colorado’s oil and gas industry about $30 million to implement, said Larry Volk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels is the main driver of climate change, but while less methane is emitted overall, it is an even more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon.

Methane emissions in the United States dropped slightly from 2011 to 2012. But such emissions from oil and gas operations have risen in Colorado and other states where energy production is roaring, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The state has rules in place to curb emissions of methane, the primary component of natural gas, during drilling. The proposed new rules call for detecting and repairing methane leaks throughout a company’s infrastructure once a well is producing: at equipment at the well site, above-ground pipelines and at compressor stations.

“The rules will help Colorado prepare for anticipated growth in energy development while protecting public health and the environment,” Gov. Hickenlooper said in a statement. “They represent a significant step forward in addressing a wider range of emissions that before now have not been directly regulated.”

Under the rules, the bigger the polluter, the more often it would have to monitor its infrastructure for leaks, which would have to be repaired within 15 days. Companies would have to report their repairs and allow state inspectors to check facilities for leaks.

On November 5, voters in four Colorado cities elected to impose restrictions on fracking in the state, and the involvement of the industry in these proposals could be seen as an attempt to improve its environmental credentials.

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