Surprise, Coloradans can breathe a little easier
The headlines and the harmful rhetoric around oil and natural gas these days often seem to prophesize the end of times. Leading Democratic presidential candidates now back extreme measures like the Green New Deal as they hammer away at oil and natural gas companies. Even the “countdown clock” for action to avoid “climate disaster” has suddenly dropped from years to mere months.
But amid the hyperbole and the rhetoric we’ve also seen a decade’s worth of reports about tougher air rules, regulations, emissions testing, and new technologies that help combat pollution.
So, what is the truth? Are we all doomed? Have our efforts to be better stewards of the air been for naught? Or can we find rays of hope and progress beyond the hot air of political rhetoric?
Well, the truth of the matter is you can breathe a little easier, Colorado’s air is actually getting cleaner. (If you were reading a text message right now, this would be the place to insert the mindblown emoji). Yes, that’s right — our air is cleaner today than it has been over the past 30 years.
Coupled with innovative new technologies, strong air regulations are working, particularly with respect to air emissions from oil and natural gas. Data from the governor-appointed Regional Air Quality Council (RAQC), which informs Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division (APCD), show that emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil and natural gas facilities in Colorado’s ozone nonattainment area fell by nearly 50 percent between 2011 and 2017, even though oil production quadrupled and natural gas production tripled statewide. Over the past three years, the oil and natural gas industry has participated in a voluntary and coordinated emission reduction initiative during forecasted high ozone days, as well as made great strides toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While the West Slope complies with federal ozone standards, population growth and geographic factors along the Front Range make it nearly impossible to stay in compliance with ever tightening EPA standards. In fact, that continuous rule tightening over time is required by the Clean Air Act, which means while our ozone levels have improved substantially and air quality in Colorado is getting better, that does not mean the entire state stands in compliance. An important nuance that is often missed.
The good news continues, however, as carbon dioxide emissions across the country have fallen to their lowest level in a generation, according to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. And, a separate report released by the EPA in July 2019 shows that between 1970 and 2018, measurements of six key pollutants dropped even though the U.S. economy grew 275 percent.
All of this adds up to what should be considered great news for our communities, our state, and our planet, but we need to cut through the name calling, blame games, and political rhetoric that too often dominates the national narrative and our individual conversations in order to see it.
Air regulations and the technology to capture and reduce emissions can be complicated, but the truth is simple: We all value clean air and Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry is working overtime to make sure those positive trends continue.
We all breathe the same air. And fortunately, in Colorado, despite our state’s massive growth, it’s cleaner than it’s been in 30 years.
Dan Haley is the president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association based in Denver. Eric Carlson is the executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association based in Grand Junction.