COGA Likes New Air Quality Rules (Except They Don’t)


Last November, several of Colorado's leading oil and gas companies joined with Gov. John Hickenlooper to help negotiate recommendations to the state's Air Quality Control Commission to reduce air pollution from the state's oil and gas sector. Hickenlooper's longstanding weak spot on energy issues with the Democratic base, arguably his biggest political problem going into the 2014 elections, could be substantially alleviated if this deal is successful. Energy companies involved win too, both by making a serious attempt to clean up their operations and by avoiding the consequences of being out of federal compliance for these emissions.

The rulemaking process has now begun, and the prospect of the state actually adopting and implementing the strongest rules in the country to limit emissions of methane and other "ozone precursors" has resulted in a sneakier form of opposition–widening the divide between good-faith stakeholders in energy extraction in Colorado and the truly irresponsible.

Many of the initial filings in the rulemaking from operators express at least tepid support for the proposed rules, which include first-in-the-nation direct regulation of methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) as well as the strongest controls of leaks, or "fugitive emissions," from well sites, compressors and tanks. However, the state's industry trade associations–the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Colorado Petroleum Association–are balking at the proposal:

In their joint statement, COGA and CPA support many aspects of the State's proposed regulations. CPA and COGA offer solutions, clarifications, and suggested modifications to develop reasonable revisions to the proposed regulations…

While it was at times difficult to figure out exactly what they were saying, the "clarifications" proposed by COGA would by all accounts gut the new proposed rules. They want to apply any changes only to the areas of the state that are currently not attaining federal air quality standards. They disagree about the cost. They object to the energy industry being "singled out." According to their own statement, COGA doesn't seem to be convinced any of this is necessary at all:

[COGA and CPA] requests the Division to fully evaluate and consider the full costs and benefits associated with the proposed rules and ensure these cost and benefits warrant the adoption of the proposed rule language. [Pols emphasis]

In short, the energy industry's biggest trade group "supports many aspects" of the new rules. Except they actually don't. Fortunately, Colorado's largest drillers–Noble Energy, Anadarko Petroleum and Encana Corporation–are all on board. It's a curious state of affairs to say the least, but Governor Hickenlooper and these industry leaders have pledged support for the strongest and most effective rules in the country to reduce air pollution from oil and gas development. While certainly not the only fight over oil and gas development in Colorado, this is a universally positive step that should be applauded.

As for COGA? They seem more than ever representative of a minority view, on the wrong side of history challenging the state's authority to address the climate impacts of oil and gas development. This is especially shocking given the public posturing of COGA and its CEO, claiming support for "working together" to tackle pollution and climate change. For all the criticism of Gov. Hickenlooper on this issue, including from this blog, COGA's disingenuous response to a good proposal helps clarify who the bad guys really are.

10 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. ClubTwitty says:

    The people and environment of Colorado are being played for suckers.  

    • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

      Do you mean by COGA, or Hick?

      • bullshit!bullshit! says:

        With all due respect to CT, there are a lots of folks on the left who are worried that the AQCC rules will be used as cover for Hick's weakness on fracking, groundwater standards, etc. And they're probably right.

        But as Pols says, that doesn't mean these rules are bad. Hick may have pulled jujitsu with intentional weak 1st draft rules, but the revised version is good. And COGA looks like a bunch of dumbasses for being to the right of their biggest clients.

        • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

          As I understand it, the "ban fracking" folks see this as an acquiescence to the inevitability of failure and don't want to support the rules as a result. No one understands the fervor and passion of the folks in Longmont, Boulder, et al, than I.

          I fully support their effort to get the state of Colorado to declare that the imperative to provide companies with access to a resource they can export for profit, DOES NOT supercede the rights of surface owners to be protected from industrial pollution. There are places that are too dangerous and too special to drill…period.

          But this forgets the plight of the people (and, that is all of us) who are, this minute, dealing with the pollution created by the more than 50,000 wells that currently are producing billions of dollars of profit for an industry that comprises less than 4% of our state economy. People who live near these facilities face many chemical hazards and horror stories told to me by countless citizens over the years paint an awful picture. Limiting emissions does not weaken the argument that the people of Fort Collins have a right to make the decision to protect themselves from water pollution and industrial mayhem. In my view, we need both.

          This rule making is historic, and deserves the interest and support of every air breather in our state. To my knowledge, no governmental entity has ever considered the regulation of methane, ever…anywhere.

          Ground level ozone damages living tissue…that is not debatable. We cannot continue to allow current levels of fugitive emissions to continue. The big producers are in support because it means more profit for them. We need to help them convince the rest of their industry that it is the right thing to do, as well.


      • ClubTwitty says:

        COGA and industry, certainly.  CPA represents a lot of the majors, and they are right up there in the fight. The longer industry can drag out discussions, studies, etc. the more wells they get in now.  Simple mathmatics I suppose, but we are fools to think the public would be in the equation at all if left up to industry.  

  2. ajb says:

    I've heard it said, without any citations, that the real culprit here are the wildcatters. The big players are see value in cutting down on emissions. The wildcatters, on the other hand, just want to find the oil/gas and then sell the well to the big guys for production. 

    That might explain why Encana et al. are on board while COGA isn't.

    • bullshit!bullshit! says:

      COGA pushes the hard line because they're paid to. It's as simple as that.

    • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

      It is, in large measure, the stripper well operators that are crying the loudest. Stripper wells are those older wells that are past their peak production, and are operated by second tier companies that buy them from the major companies who have paid to have them drilled. Stripper wells don't have to pay severance taxes on their production, as I recall. Plus, as you say, the drillers really don't want any such rules, because they get paid by the foot.

      One of the dynamics of this situation that exacerbates the disagreement is the way in which Gov. Frackenlooper negotiated the deal. As I understand it, the govs' office worked out the deal with the three big production companies before COGA and the CPA were even told. Much anger and strife resulted, I am led to believe. The internal industry struggle between the bigs and the littles may explain any inconsistency in the industries' message, as the COGA and CPA leadership try to walk this tightrope.

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