Western Slope residents push for stricter air quality standards; gas industry reps question the need | VailDaily.com

Western Slope residents push for stricter air quality standards; gas industry reps question the need

Alex Zorn
Rifle Citizen Telegram

RIFLE — State health officials headed out to Rifle on Tuesday, April 17, to meet with a room full of Western Slope residents, community activists and members of the oil and gas industry to discuss adopting stricter air quality standards across the state.

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission is looking into whether the recently adopted Front Range requirements that have oil and gas companies test equipment and facilities more frequently for leaks should apply statewide.

"All residents should get the protections they deserve," Battlement Mesa resident Betsy Leonard said during the comment portion, which other than the 10-minute introduction lasted the entire two-hour meeting.

Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment Air Pollution Control Division Deputy Director Chris Colclasure said they are beginning a two-year process to gauge support for expanding the rules. One meeting has already taken place in Denver, and another will be in Fort Collins in May.

By 2020, the CDPHE will give a recommendation to the Air Quality Control Commission regarding air-quality protections statewide.

Carbondale resident Kate Hudson wants to see the same protections here as on the Front Range.

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"Strong statewide protections should and could be a win-win for communities and industry," she said.

Leonard and Hudson were among around 20 individuals from across the Western Slope to speak in favor of adopting the Front Range rules. Attendees at the Tuesday hearing included residents from Moffat and Rio Blanco counties and some Front Range residents.

The rule in question was adopted in November 2017 for nine counties in the Denver metro area and along the northern Front Range, where ozone levels have been out of compliance with standards set by the Clean Air Act.

Garfield County Public Health air monitoring data has shown significant decreases in the concentrations of volatile organic compounds. Ursa Operating Co. Environmental Manager Dwayne Knudson questioned whether stricter standards are necessary here and elsewhere on the Western Slope.

"Is it really time to consider adding more rules to an industry that is already heavily regulated?" he asked, adding that as an industry employee and Battlement Mesa resident he feels he's in a unique position to comment on the issue.

"If I had concerns with air quality in Battlement Mesa, I wouldn't subject my kids to them," he said.

Knudson was not the only member of the industry to push back on some of the comments made on Tuesday. David Ludlam, director of the industry group West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, questioned the harsh rhetoric used in several comments.

"These are good people and deserve better than the rhetoric and hyperbole leveled against them," he said. "I represent thousands of people that care about the environment and living in Colorado."

"I'd like to challenge anybody in this room to say oil and gas people aren't concerned about air quality and aren't exposed to it," Ursa Vice President of Business Development Don Simpson said.

The new rule adopted in November requires more frequent inspections of facilities in the state's Leak Detection and Repair Program, under which operators are required to evaluate and analyze potential ways to reduce hydrocarbon emissions.

Several representatives from a coalition of citizen and environmental groups were also in attendance at the meeting, arguing that the state has a whole should fall under the same rules when it comes to limiting emissions.

"People living in Western Colorado and elsewhere around the state shouldn't have to wait until pollution levels are a threat to their health," Battlement Mesa resident Bonnie Smeltzer said in a prepared statement prior to the hearing.

"We deserve to have the same protections as our neighbors on the Front Range so that we prevent the problems that occurred there from occurring here," she said.

Western Colorado Congress has called for the state to require use of best available technologies and more frequent leak inspections anytime oil and gas facilities are near homes.

"Garfield County has the distinction of having more neighborhood drilling proposals than any other county in the state," said Leslie Robinson, a Western Colorado Congress board member. "Western Slope residents deserve clean air and safe neighborhoods."