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Colorado poised to ban natural gas venting, flaring

Colorado is poised to prohibit natural gas venting and flaring after a unanimous vote from a state regulatory body.

On Nov. 5, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission advanced draft rules that would ban gas venting and flaring except in specific instances. The commission will hold a final vote on the draft rules, among numerous other proposed rules, on Nov. 20. If passed, Colorado would no longer allow companies to vent and flare their excess natural gas, with a few exceptions, beginning in early 2021.

Following the 2019 passage of Senate Bill 181, legislation that called for major changes to the state's industry oversight, the commission has sought to update many of its oil and gas regulations. Under the draft rule, the sector could only vent or flare gas during an "upset condition" that cannot exceed 24 hours, active and required maintenance, or with specific approval, among other select instances, according to the rule.

The American Petroleum Institute, or API, which represents the industry, worked with commission staff to ensure the new rules were consistent with venting regulations under the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, according to Carrie Hackenberger, associate director of API's Colorado chapter.

The trade group does not expect the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission would change the newly advanced regulations before finalizing them, the associate director said.

API is "generally supportive" of the new rules and is now focused on working with commission staff to develop guidance for their implementation before the regulations take effect on Jan. 15, Hackenberger said. There were multiple conversations with all stakeholders throughout the rules' development, the associate director said, resulting in a regulation that will "minimize the impacts to both large and small operators alike."

"We still have some questions on how the rules are actually going to be implemented," Hackenberger said. "The devil's always in the details."

The Environmental Defense Fund said Colorado oil and gas operators vent and flare nearly $12 million worth of natural gas annually. Colorado would be the first state in the contiguous U.S. to prohibit the practice, EDF said in a Nov. 5 release.

"Ending routine flaring is a critical move for protecting Colorado's communities and climate from needless waste and pollution," said Dan Grossman, senior director of state energy advocacy at EDF. "The outdated practice of torching natural gas for sheer convenience has no place in a 21st century energy economy. With this rule, Colorado becomes the model for other jurisdictions looking to end routine flaring as communities, investors and leading companies demand action."

API noted that the Colorado industry already limits its vented and flared natural gas. In 2019, the state vented and flared about 5.11 Bcf of natural gas — roughly 0.9% of the nation's total — putting Colorado in sixth place for most gas vented or flared that year.

In the top three slots were Texas with 251.19 Bcf of gas, North Dakota with 205.17 Bcf and New Mexico with 36.23 Bcf in New Mexico, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.