California, Colorado Consider Tough Oil And Gas Regulations

Colorado and California both just proposed new regulations for oil and gas production in their states. Both states have been pushed by environmental concerns to establish rules tougher than federal requirements. If Colorado's proposal goes ahead, it would be the first state in the nation to directly regulate methane. California also says its proposed rule would be the toughest in the nation. It regulates the engineering technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

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America's energy fortunes are changing. The country now produces more oil than it imports but with this oil and natural gas boom come more challenges to the environment. Around the country, some are calling for stricter regulations or even bans on drilling. Energy companies in at least two states, Colorado and California, are ready to accept tougher rules. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports the companies say it's the price of doing business.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: In Colorado, rules proposed this week respond to concerns people have about drill rigs popping up in their neighborhoods. They worry about air pollution from diesel engines and gases leaking from wells and storage equipment. Dan Grossman from Environmental Defense Fund says people are so scared that three communities just voted to ban an engineering technique that's behind America's oil and gas booms. It's called hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

DAN GROSSMAN: And that goes to the fundamental question about whether or not citizens will tolerate oil and gas development in their neighborhoods and in the state.

SHOGREN: Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper hopes he's found a middle ground. He says his states' proposed rules will be the toughest air pollution regulations in the country. However...

GOVERNOR JOHN HICKENLOOPER: These rules, while they're going to be enforced, they weren't necessarily imposed in that old sense of the word.

SHOGREN: Oil companies and environmental groups worked with the state to develop the rules. Doug Hock represents one of the companies, Encana.

DOUG HOCK: We want to continue to do business here. We realize that we've got to uphold a very high standard and the state will hold us to that.

SHOGREN: A lot of the air pollution comes from leaks. Under the Colorado proposal, companies will have to check for leaks at their well sites, storage tanks and other equipment and fix what they find. The rules go further than nationwide air pollution rules announced last year. Those federal rules target pollutants that contribute to smog. But Colorado's new rules are also looking at a long-term threat - climate change. The Environmental Defense Fund's Grossman has been working on the Colorado rules.

GROSSMAN: No one in the country has really been focusing on another aspect, and that is a gas called methane which basically is natural gas and it's a very, very potent greenhouse gas that is really damaging from a climate change perspective.

SHOGREN: Colorado is the first state to directly control methane. Studies suggest large amounts of methane escapes from storage tanks, compressors and other equipment. Grossman says his environmental group hopes that by limiting leaks, America can take advantage of the benefits of generating electricity out of natural gas, which has a smaller greenhouse gas footprint than coal.

GROSSMAN: We think that other states will look at what we were able to accomplish here and replicate it.

SHOGREN: Over in California, the state government is getting ready for a possible oil boom. Its new proposed rules target potential water pollution from new drilling techniques like fracking. The fear is that chemicals used to make oil flow will get into water supplies. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, says companies are OK with the proposed rules.

CATHERINE REHEIS-BOYD: The bar is very high in California for any business that operates there.

SHOGREN: The rules would require companies to test groundwater before and after fracking and inform neighbors and the broader public of their plans, including what chemicals they will use. Reheis-Boyd says it will cost operators but it will at least move the conversation away from where it was last year, when legislators were calling for a statewide moratorium. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News.

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