Gov. John Hickenlooper was using words like "dramatic" and "unprecedented" at the Capitol Monday when outlining new air-quality proposals for oil and gas drilling -- proposals that would, his office declared, "make Colorado the first state to directly regulate detection and reduction of methane emissions" associated with drilling.
Big news, indeed.
But perhaps the bigger news was that officials of three of the state's largest oil and gas producers -- Noble Energy, Encana and Anadarko -- were at the same press conference extolling the plans. They believe the measures, while costly, are practical and important. And while they by no means speak for the entire industry, their support guarantees that the proposed rules should have much smoother sailing when the state Air Quality Control Commission reviews them in formal hearings early next year.
We hope so. Although the details have yet to be released, the general thrust of the plan -- a clampdown on emissions and leaks in oil and gas operations -- is certainly on target.
For one thing, controlling emissions is an important tactic in keeping ozone under control. This region already has trouble meeting the ozone standard, which was lowered in 2008. And yet the standard could be tightened again in the future.
Meanwhile, methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas.
Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, told the assembled press Monday that in terms of "volatile organic compounds" alone, the proposed rules would result in reductions equal to more than the VOC emissions of all cars in the state over an entire year.
Dan Grossman, regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund, which played a key role in negotiating the proposals, added that they went well beyond anything in place in other energy-producing states.
Although you wouldn't always know it given the passionate debates over hydraulic fracturing, Colorado has been a leader in enlightened regulation of oil and gas operations for some time.
Not that the fracking debate is going away. Just this week, Broomfield announced that its final election tally showed voters approving a five-year ban on fracking operations there -- and Broomfield is one of four Front Range communities to impose fracking restrictions in this month's election.
The air-quality proposals announced Monday can't and weren't meant to satisfy every concern of those seeking to restrict fracking. But they do demonstrate, once again, that state officials are willing to move decisively on issues of health and safety involving drilling.
Officials at Noble Energy, Encana and Anadarko also deserve a great deal of credit for participating in the talks that produced the plan. As representatives of a dynamic industry that is creating jobs and supplying much-needed affordable energy to the economy, they could have walked away from the table long before the final proposals gelled.
Fortunately, they stuck it out, recognizing that their companies' long-term interest and better air quality are not in conflict.