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

Credit: Blake Thornberry, flickr.

Today the Bureau of Land Management publicly announced guidelines to significantly curtail natural gas waste from current and future oil and gas operations on federal lands. This is a critical component of an overall need to modernize energy development.

By Joshua Mantell

Wasting natural gas, a common practice for the oil and gas industry, has tremendous consequences for taxpayers. A recent study showed that wasted gas from our public lands costs taxpayers $330 million annually.  Once paid, 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 other studies.

And of course, wasted natural gas waste also contributes to climate change. The main component of natural gas is methane. When it is released into the atmosphere, methane—which is colorless and odorless— is significantly more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide. In fact, the United Nations has found that over a twenty-year timeline, methane is 84 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.

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.

BLM and the Obama Administration have already taken significant steps to modernize public land management and bring it into the 21st century. Reducing natural gas waste and stopping methane emissions will only help this process.