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.