Interior Department moves to gut safeguards to methane pollution

Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Credit: Mason Cummings/TWS.

The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a proposal yesterday to gut the rule meant to protect communities from methane pollution created by oil and gas drilling on public lands.

This proposal is the latest attack on environmental protections by the Trump administration, which has sought to revise at least 60 environmental rules.

Drilling for oil and natural gas creates methane waste. This waste can be harnessed through quick and cheap procedures, which spurred the creation of BLM's methane waste prevention rule in 2016.
 
If the 2016 rule is upheld, the BLM would be able to reduce methane emissions by 35%.
 
The new proposed rule eliminates several protection and safety requirements established by the 2016 rule, including regular leak detection and repair requirements; submitting waste minimization plans to detail how an operator will comply with methane venting, flaring and leak requirements and how they plan to capture associated gas once a well begins producing; and equipment specific emissions reduction provisions.
 
Where the requirements were not rescinded in their entirety, they were substantially revised or replaced with guidance from the Notice to Lessees and Operators of Onshore Federal and Indian Oil and Gas Leases, Royalty or Compensation for Oil and Gas Lost, which was last updated in 1979.
 
This reversal will lose us business, pollute our air, and unnecessarily meddles with U.S. energy regulations. If it stands, the reversal will also show the Trump administration that they can safely reverse more environmental rules. Secretary Zinke may call these rules “burdens,” but they are protections for the public.
 
The original rule is meant to benefit communities exposed to the public health hazards from methane venting, such as those in Northwest New Mexico, where a methane gas cloud the size of Delaware was detected in 2014.
 
Methane is 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas in the short term than carbon dioxide, and the rule would help reduce emissions on public lands, fighting against a rising global temperature.
 

Pawnee, Colorado. Credit: Mason Cummings/TWS.

Recent court rulings suggest that the BLM’s suspension of the rule is illegal, and New Mexico and California, along with The Wilderness Society and other environmental and tribal groups, are suing the DOI to let the rule stand.

Attorneys General Hector Balderas of New Mexico and Xavier Becerra of California argue that the rule would result in 18 million dollars of royalties due to their states.

ExxonMobil and energy company XTO Energy also announced support for the methane regulations in February.

"We've made a lot of progress so far in minimizing methane emissions from industry operations. I am confident we can achieve even more," Sara Ortwein, president of XTO Energy, said.

Keeping the rule benefits the American public’s bottom line, increasing the amount of royalties  drilling companies pay.

John Barrasso, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman, says the rule "costly" and "unnecessary," but the projected cost to the American public for revising the rule is in the millions. Each year we lose 330 million dollars from waste on public lands.

As former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell put it in 2016: “This rule to prevent waste of our nation’s natural gas supplies is good government, plain and simple.

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