Attorney: Draft air quality regulations a mixed bag


Matt Sura, an attorney representing the groups Weld Air and Water and Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, says he views the proposed air quality rules announced by Gov. John Hickenlooper last week as a vast improvement over an earlier draft, although more needs to be done.

“It’s so much better,” Sura says. “It’s a different approach altogether.”

He says it is unfortunate that downstream compressor stations, where the most methane emissions occur, are still exempted from the Leak Detection and Repair program under the new draft rules. On the other hand, Sura says, the previous allowance for only auditory-visual-olfactory (AVO, or hearing, sight and smell) tests for well sites emitting between six and 10 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per year has been eliminated, and this category of wells would be subjected to annual instrument-based tests instead. (Wells emitting under six tons of VOCs would be subject to one-time instrument-based testing, with only monthly AVO tests thereafter.)

Another example of the new draft regulations being strengthened, he says, is that a previous version gave companies 15 to 30 days to repair leaks once they were detected. The new draft requires such repairs to be made within five days (or within 15 days of receiving a part if it is not within stock).

As for venting — the practice of flaring off natural gas because it is so plentiful and cheap, in favor of capturing more lucrative oil — the draft proposal “kind of kicks the can down the road a little bit,” Sura says, because it calls for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to make rules on how quickly a company must hook its natural gas into a pipeline.

He says his biggest beef with the draft is that it still fails to implement special rules for oil and gas operations located within a quarter-mile of schools, homes and other occupied structures, and the groups he represents are proposing stricter regulations for those wells.

Sura says the passage of the bans and moratoria related to fracking along the Front Range probably played a significant role leveraging the gains that the Environmental Defense Fund was able to make in the draft regulations.

“I believe that had to have some impact,” he says.


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