Leaky oil and gas equipment is costly to the energy industry and to the environment. It’s obvious that if more oil and gas can be kept in the pipes, storage tanks and trucks, then more energy product can be sold — and impact on the environment can be reduced.
A positive step forward to reduce leakage in the oil and gas fields has been taken by the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ), which recently finalized a new framework governing Utah’s energy producers. This approach sets the stage for efforts to reduce Utah’s smog problem by cutting volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from equipment located at oil and gas production facilities.
This is an important step forward and DAQ and Utah state government deserve praise for proposing these rules. The rules will help modernize Utah’s oil and gas regulatory framework and ultimately create a cleaner, more efficient oil and gas industry in Utah. They will begin to help the state address unhealthy air quality that has been a problem in northeastern Utah’s Uinta Basin in recent years. And, these rules will help foster new Utah jobs and economic development in the methane mitigation industry, the companies (many already located in Utah) that develop, manufacture and deploy new technologies to reduce air pollution from oil and gas air development.
I strongly support the rules, but it makes sense for Utah to follow up on them and implement further emissions reductions. This is because the air in the Uinta Basin is so unhealthy that the federal EPA is currently in the process of listing it as “nonattainment” for smog pollution. This isn’t just bad news for clean air in Uintah and Duchesne Counties, it is also bad for business and for the region’s hopes of attracting new jobs.
The good news is, we can act quickly to clean up the air in Northeastern Utah. Proven, cost-effective fixes are available to dramatically reduce pollution and waste from the oil and gas industry. In fact, our neighbors in Wyoming have already put these fixes in place with a marked benefit on their clean air. These requirements, such as frequent and comprehensive leak inspections at oil and gas wells, could significantly reduce emissions, while also improving operators’ bottom lines by maximizing recovered product.
These provisions will also help restore clean air to those parts of the state, particularly parts of Duchesne and Uintah counties, that are struggling to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards for unhealthy smog pollution.
Frequent inspection of facilities with modern leak detection equipment is a proven method to reduce leaks and maximize product recovery. According to the EPA, quarterly inspections can reduce leaks by 80 percent while semi-annual inspections can cut leaks by 60 percent.
Both EPA and Bureau of Land Management rules require operators to inspect their facilities twice a year. Neighboring states require even more frequent inspections. Both Colorado and Wyoming require operators to inspect mid-sized well sites quarterly. Increasing Utah’s minimum inspection frequency to semi-annual will harmonize federal and state rules and reduce jurisdictional confusion.
Semi-annual inspections are also highly cost-effective and can result in significant operator savings by ensuring that natural gas stays in pipelines rather than being leaked to the atmosphere. One of the primary operators in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin, Jonah Energy, has reported cumulative gas savings exceeding $5 million over a six-year period due to implementing monthly leak inspections at its production facilities.
Second, I suggest expanding Utah’s control requirements to apply to the full suite of hydrocarbon pollutants contained in natural gas emissions. VOCs make up a small fraction of natural gas pollutants. The bulk of natural gas emissions consist of methane – both the main product of the natural gas industry and a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
Federal requirements require Uintah Basin operators to control both methane and VOCs, as do requirements in Colorado. Expanding the scope of Utah’s rules to apply to total hydrocarbons (VOCs and methane) will ensure maximum product recovery from facilities that primarily produce dry gas and will harmonize Utah’s requirements with federal requirements and those of neighboring states.
I greatly appreciate the efforts the DAQ has taken to reduce harmful pollution from oil and gas sites in the Utah. And I support them in acting quickly to finish the job. Further efforts to reduce oil and gas pollution will improve air quality, create jobs and bolster economic development, and provide better consistency with federal regulators and other states. I encourage the DAQ to consider these additional provisions without delay.
Steve Handy, R-Layton, represents District 16 in the Utah House of Representatives.