Gazette Opinion: Methane Waste debate flares again – Billings Gazette, April 1, 2018
Gas that leaks or flares from America’s public lands benefits no one. That’s why regulations to prevent waste can provide broad benefits.
Contrary to that common sense conclusion, the Trump administration has been trying to undo waste prevention rules finalized at the end of 2016 after years of public comment and study.
“The BLM is proposing to replace the venting and flaring rule with requirements similar to those that were in force prior to the 2016 final rule,” said a February press release from the BLM office in Washington, D.C. The release says the rollback is in compliance with President Trump’s executive order to promote “energy independence” and to modify regulations that “unnecessarily hinder economic growth and energy development.”
The BLM’s Methane and Waste Prevention rule is not a threat to “energy independence,” because it actually encourages putting more gas in the production pipeline. Rather than “unnecessarily hinder,” prevention promotes the healthy balance of clean air with energy development.
The national BLM press release included supportive comments from several Western Republicans, including Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, who was quoted: “I am glad that Secretary (Ryan) Zinke is proposing to replace the unnecessary and costly methane rule. If left in place, the rule would have discouraged energy production and job creation in Wyoming and across the West.”
An attempt to abolish the methane waste prevention rule failed in the U.S. Senate last year. The idea of preventing gas waste is popular with the public. In the 2018 Colorado College poll, Conservation in the West, 77 percent of Montanans surveyed agreed that producers who operate on national public lands should be required to use updated equipment and technology to prevent leaks of methane gas during the extraction process and reduce the need to burn off excess natural gas into the air. Similar results came from Wyoming where 77 percent favored gas waste prevention. Throughout the eight-state region surveyed, 75 percent supported no-waste requirements, and 15 percent opposed such requirements.
Wyoming already requires leak and flaring prevention measures of oil and gas producers in the Upper Green River Basin. Air pollution from methane gas releases prompted the state to set strict standards that have been beneficial to air quality and the energy production company. As previously reported by Heather Richards of The Casper Star Tribune, Jonah Energy has cut repair costs by finding small problems before they become big ones and has captured more gas to sell at market.
A report released earlier this year by the Wyoming Outdoor Council estimated that Wyoming state and local governments lose out on between $8.8 million and $16.1 million in gas royalties and taxes annually from gas that is wasted.
On Feb. 22, U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick in California issued a preliminary injunction against BLM’s rule rollback. He found that the BLM’s decision to delay methane waste reduction was “untethered to evidence.” Orrick noted that BLM said the methane emissions at issue are “infinitesimal or roughly 0.61 percent of the total U.S. methane emissions in 2015.” But testimony from a climate scientist said the 175,000 tons of methane that would be released into the air in one year without the prevention rule, equivalent to 3 million passenger vehicles driving for a year.
All oil and gas producers on public lands should be held accountable for the actual costs of production — and lost production when gas that should generate royalties goes up in smoke.
The 2016 waste prevention rule is common sense and good stewardship of the public’s natural resources. The BLM should stop obstructing its own well-researched 2016 rule. We call on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to focus on implementing incentives to make gas production more efficient with less waste.