Colorado panel OKs new oil- and gas-drilling rules

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AURORA, Colo. (AP) — State health officials approved a sweeping plan Sunday to reduce air pollution from oil and gas drilling, including the nation's first statewide limit on methane emissions.

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission approved the new rules in an 8-1 vote after a public hearing in Aurora that began Wednesday.

"Protecting Colorado's public and environment is one of our greatest responsibilities, and we must ensure oil and gas development continues to adhere to the most protective standards," said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director of the Department of Public Health and Environment. "We're pleased that a group of environmental and industry leaders worked with our administration to help forge these landmark rules."

In addition to the limits on methane, the rules require companies operating in Colorado to install the latest valves and auto-igniters to minimize emissions of toxic gases. Companies would have to capture or control 95 percent of emissions, using vapor-recovery tanks or other technology.

Companies also would have to inspect facilities for leaks, up to once a month, depending on how many tons of pollution the facilities emit. Leaks would have to be fixed in about 15 days.

Large energy producers, including Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Encana Corp. and Noble Corp., helped craft the new rules and have backed the plan, although some industry groups said the proposal unfairly burdens small companies.

Industry officials also wanted the regulations to apply only to about 20 percent of the state, but the commission decided to make the regulations apply statewide.

"Unfortunately, we were not successful in ensuring that the rule accommodates the differences in basins and operators," said Doug Flanders, a spokesman for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. "Nevertheless, we are committed to working with our operators, our communities and the state to successfully and effectively implement these rules."

Sara Barwinski, a member of the community group Weld Air and Water who testified before the commission, said it's a great day for residents of Colorado's oil- and gas-producing areas.

"The new regulations will significantly reduce air pollution that causes ground-level ozone and those hazardous pollutants that are also known to cause impacts to public health," she said in a news release.

Bob Arrington, of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said the commission's action is only a first step.

"We believe the state should continue to find ways to reduce the health risks to people living near oil and gas facilities," he said.

State officials have said it's expected to cost the industry about $40 million a year to comply with the stricter air rules.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to talk about the rules at a news conference Tuesday.

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