BLM methane rule protects human and livestock health

May 8, 2017

Categories: Agriculture, Agriculture, Clean Energy, Congress, News, Oil & Gas, Oil and gas, Plains Speaking

By: Pat Wilson

Note: The U.S. Senate failed 49-51 on May 10 to rescind the BLM methane waste rule using the Congressional Review Act. This guest editorial appeared in the May 8, 2017, Billings Gazette.

The U.S. Senate has been considering rolling back the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane and Waste Prevention Rule — key protections that limit the waste of minerals — through the use of the Congressional Review Act. Now, senators have only a few more days before the time limit is up to rescind these protections, enacted during the Obama Administration. So far, enough senators have had the common sense to resist doing away with these protections that save taxpayers money, create energy, and protect the air we breathe.

I have spent most of my life on the family cattle ranch in the heart of the Bakken in Montana. The methane protections are critically important to me and my family. The protections, which reduce the amount of methane burned off, released directly into the air, and leaked at oil and gas operations, are good news for people living in oil country. Wasting gas is an extremely short-sighted practice; it not only takes potential tax revenue from communities that could sorely use it to address their infrastructure needs, but it also poses serious threats to our health.

Flares in Montana

The BLM protections strike close to home for my wife and me. Our family cattle ranch sits east of Bainville amid extensive oil and gas development. We live with the impacts. I have driven past countless oil well flares spouting huge flames into thin air because Montana has few controls on methane waste.

Although some of these wells are connected to gas collection lines, some are not, and all are flared at least part of the time. All wells, especially Bakken wells “out gas” both methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from their storage tanks.

Since the Bakken boom began, we’ve had increasing amounts of respiratory trouble in our cow herd. Bakken oil workers have been found dead on location, slumped over tanks they have been monitoring. My stepson, whose job involves checking oil wells, often has to wear a breathing apparatus on location.

My wife has chronic and severe asthma, and since the Bakken boom it has become much worse. Three years ago, while alone in our house, she lost consciousness. She came to enough to use her rescue inhaler, and drive to the ER. Because the local medical community was overwhelmed by the boom, she had to wait five hours to see a physician. It’s clear much of her problem is related to worsened air quality.

Asthma trigger

On a trip to New Mexico, we discovered that her breathing improved so much that now we spend part of every year there, in large part because of her health. It’s made a huge difference for her. In Bainville, she uses her inhaler two or three times a day. In New Mexico, she might use it three or four times over the course of the winter.

Our personal experiences are supported by a growing body of scientific evidence. According to a recent study by Texas Tech researchers, people living within 500 feet of well sites in areas of intensive oil and gas activity had a five times increased risk of noncancer illness compared to those living 2,500 feet away. Even worse, children and the elderly are at much greater risks from out-gassing air toxins.

Do we really wish to treat public resources in such a wasteful, abusive, hazardous way? Do we really want to expose our oil country communities to unnecessary health risks? I urge the Montana delegation to vote to uphold these much needed protections.

Pat Wilson is a rancher near Bainville and a member of Northern Plains.

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