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Air pollution rules being debated

Paul Shockley

GRAND JUNCTION – An ethical cop-out?Or, a simple reality: What’s right for Denver isn’t necessarily fit for Mesa County and western Colorado.Either way, Monday’s hearing on air pollution – and the role played by emissions from the region’s exploding oil and gas industry – looks to be a prominent theme over the coming months.”What I’m hearing is that we should have a lower ethical standard than other communities on the Front Range – and that troubles me,” former state representative candidate Rich Alward told the hosts of the hearing, the Mesa County Board of Commissioners. The commissioners endorsed a new set of regulations drawn up by Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division, driven in recent months by smog concerns caused by oil and gas development. At the same time, commissioners refused to endorse a set of stricter regulations, pushed locally by activists with Western Colorado Congress, already adopted for the Denver metro area.Commission’ chairman Tillie Bishop said the more stringent measures could scare industry away from Mesa County.”Any decision ought to be determined by what’s happening on the ground here, rather than what’s happened (in Denver area),” Bishop said. The Western Colorado Congress cited what it called a key difference in the two regs: condensate tanks. The tanks fill with by-product gases during the oil and gas production process – and eventually seep out. Compounds, such as formaldehyde, react with sunlight and help form smog – the source of a host of respiratory illnesses.Under new state regs, tanks emitting more than 20 tons of smog-causing compounds would have to control 95 percent of those emissions, by May 1, 2008.This, as opposed to harsher regs in Denver: Tanks emitting more than 11 tons per year have to control that same amount of emissions starting next May. By May 2012, emissions would have to drop to 6 tons per year.Several commissioners questioned the accuracy of numbers presented Monday by the Western Colorado Congress.”There’s not a person up here not for clean water and clean air,” Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis said. “But vehicle emissions far exceed anything associated with the oil and gas industry. Why aren’t you here proposing vehicle emission testing (for Mesa County?)”Mark Schofield, Western Colorado Congress organizer who presented the group’s case Monday, said emissions testing may be proposed if industry activity continues at its current breakneck pace:Western Colorado Congress cites a state study showing oil and gas development as the source of 77 percent of human-caused “volatile organic compounds” in Garfield County. This, in a county with more than 3,500 active gas wells, and more than 1,600 new drilling permits expected to be issued by the end of the year.In Mesa County, again citing Western Colorado Congress figures, the industry is estimated to be responsible for just 8 percent of volatile organic compounds . The county’s home to 533 active wells, while 275 new permits are expected before the end of 2006.”Those numbers are only expected to rise,” Schofield told commissioners.Five counties – Routt, Pitkin, Gunnison, San Miguel and Ouray – and municipalities such as Palisade, Rifle, Silt, Crested Butte and Glenwood Springs, have passed resolutions or written letters to state officials endorsing Denver’s protection measures, the Western Colorado Congress says. Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO


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