DENVER -- A trio of oil and gas executives stood side by side with environmental activists and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper Monday as the governor announced a set of proposed rules to regulate emissions from the industry to improve air quality across the state.
As FOX31 Denver first reported Sunday night, the new rules, if approved by the state's Air Quality Control Commission, would make Colorado the first state to regulate emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that's a big driver of climate change.
"This is a tough rule," said Ted Brown, the CEO of Noble Energy, one of the biggest operators in Colorado. "But we support it because it's the right thing to do -- for our industry, for Coloradans and for our air."
Environmentalists, who were irked by a rather weak draft rule floated by the state just a month ago, celebrated the proposal, which also would require some of the biggest operators in the state to check for and repair leaks using Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) cameras that can spot natural gas on a monthly basis.
"This would be by far the strongest rule in the country when it comes to leak detection and repair from the oil and gas sector," said Dan Grossman, executive director of the Rocky Mountain regional branch of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Hickenlooper, a former geologist with close ties to the industry, said that methane capturing was always going to be part of the final proposal, even though it wasn't mentioned explicitly in the draft rule floated in October.
At a well-attended press conference in the Capitol's west foyer Monday afternoon, Hickenlooper credited industry executives and environmental advocates for staying at the table and working together over several months of negotiations.
And he framed the compromise as one that will serve as a model for the nation.
"These proposed rules provide common sense measures to help ensure Colorado has the cleanest and safest oil and gas industry in the country," Hickenlooper said. "The rules will help Colorado prepare for anticipated growth in energy development, while protecting public health and the environment.
"They represent a significant step forward in addressing a wider range of emissions that before now have not been directly regulated. We welcome the proposed rules and are grateful all of the interested parties worked together."
According to the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment, the changes will reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in Colorado by 92,000 tons annually -- a 34 percent overall reduction in emissions.
CDPHE also estimated the the rules will cost the industry about $30 million in additional expenses.
The Air Quality Control Commission will meet Thursday and set a public hearing on the rules for February 2014.
"This is only the beginning of the end," said Will Allison, the state's director of the Air Pollution Control Division.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association and Colorado Petroleum Association were not standing behind Hickenlooper on Monday; both groups are likely to fight the proposal as it goes forward, knowing that it could set a precedent for other states to tackle methane emissions if it is adopted as currently written.
"We're still digesting it," said Stan Dempsey, director of the Colorado Petroleum Association.
For an in-depth report on the negotiations that led to Monday's announcement, watch this video from Sunday night: