New federal guidelines will help reduce natural gas waste on public lands

Wasteful flaring of natural gas.

WildEarth Guardians, flickr.

The Department of Interior has made a critical contribution to the effort to modernize energy development on public lands.

On Jan. 22, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced guidelines to significantly curtail natural gas waste from oil and gas operations on federal lands.

As a greenhouse gas, methane—the largest component of natural gas—is up to 84 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Reducing methane pollution on a national level is critical to the health of our lands, our air and our water. In reducing methane emissions, these new federal guidelines are a huge step in the fight against climate change!

As part of its efforts to modernize energy development on public lands, The Wilderness Society has been advocating for these guidelines, which will ensure that natural gas is not wasted and released into the atmosphere. Along with increased renewable energy in the right places and reforming the federal coal program, a strong wasted gas rule will ensure that our shared lands and resources are used for the good of the American people and are part of the climate solution.

Wasting natural gas has long been a common practice for the oil and gas industry. In addition to the irreparable harm done to the environment, this waste has tremendous consequences for taxpayers. A recent study showed that wasted gas from our public lands costs taxpayers $330 million annually.

Once saved, some of this money will go to states and communities to help fund schools, health care and needed infrastructure projects—getting needed assistance directly to communities throughout the West that desperately need it.

Our statement on the new proposed guidelines

The amount of gas wasted each year could supply the city of Chicago with its natural gas needs. This wasted gas can be cut by almost half at little cost and with easy fixes, according to several studies.

Natural gas waste takes multiple different forms: venting, flaring and leaks.

  • Venting is the intentional leaking of natural gas that many operators undertake to relieve pressure. While this practice is common, modern technology and best practices would eliminate it.
  • Flaring is the burning of natural gas waste. This is also done to relieve pressure and can be reduced significantly with better technology.
  • Leaks are the unintentional waste of natural gas that can occur throughout the oil and gas extraction process, both at the wellhead and during transportation. Through monitoring, many of these leaks can be caught and repaired in a timely manner and reduce the amount of methane into the atmosphere.

The new BLM guidelines are not only smart and cost effective, but will also help create jobs in manufacturing, selling and installing the technology that will be required to reduce the waste. And the Administration’s action is popular: a new poll from the State of the Rockies Project shows that 80 percent of Westerners support cutting natural gas waste, and over three-fourths of Republicans, Democrats and Independents are in agreement on the issue.

The BLM and the Obama Administration have already taken significant steps to bring public land management into the 21st century, especially in energy development. Reducing natural gas waste and stopping methane emissions will significantly help this process.