Top five reasons BLM’s new Wasted Gas Rule matters

A natural gas flare in Pawnee, Colo.

Mason Cummings

By the end of the year, the Obama Administration is expected to be releasing final regulations that will reduce the amount of natural gas waste from oil and gas operations on public lands.

These guidelines, known collectively as the Wasted Gas Rule, are an important part of a suite of policies enacted over the past few years to update how energy is extracted on public lands.

Natural gas is wasted during the oil and gas development process through the practices of venting and flaring, and through leaks. Venting is when natural gas is deliberately released into the atmosphere, and flaring is when methane is released and burned off.

The wasted gas belongs to all of us. If the gas were instead directed into pipelines, or the leaks that occur were sealed, that energy could then be used by Americans, with the royalties going to taxpayers and local communities. Instead, the gas goes into the atmosphere, negatively impacting public health and the climate.

The amount of methane (the main component of natural gas) vented and flared on public lands in 2013 contributed greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to pollution from 1 million cars. That’s a significant increase from just 5 years prior.

Right now, before the effort to reduce wasted gas goes into effect, land managers do not have enough authority to restrict the amount of methane going into the atmosphere, and companies ae not required to report how much gas is lost during production. The guidelines are designed to address these issues and more, when they are finalized and implemented. The positive repercussions will be significant.

Here are the top five ways BLM’s Wasted Gas Rule will make a difference for all Americans:

1. It will reduce waste.
More than 4 percent of natural gas produced on federal lands is wasted through venting and flaring—and that gas, which belongs to all of us, is worth more than $330 million! Luckily, cost-effective technology already exists to reduce this waste—nearly half of all wasted gas could be cheaply eliminated tomorrow with easy fixes. The Wasted Gas Rule will include standards for doing just that.

2. It will lower pollution.
Venting, flaring and leaked natural gas includes numerous toxic chemicals. The tons of natural gas spewed into the air every year pollutes the air our children breathe and causes rates of asthma attacks in children to increase. In fact, in large part due to oil and gas development on federal lands, there is a methane cloud the size of Delaware hovering over the Four Corners area. An important benefit of reducing natural gas waste is addressing the public health consequences of pollution.

3. It will decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
Methane accounts for nearly 10 percent of America’s climate change-causing emissions. But the effects of methane emissions are even more significant. That’s because methane is an especially powerful greenhouse gas—in fact, it is up to 84 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. The Wasted Gas Rule will help the U.S. meet the Obama Administration’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26– 28 percent and methane emissions by 40–45 percent by 2025 (compared to 2012 levels), even though climate change is not the motivating factor behind the rule.

4. It will earn more revenue for taxpayers.
Right now industry does not pay for the gas it wastes. According to the Bureau of Land Management, the rule will increase royalty payments by up to $11 million dollars annually. That means more money for the federal government, and because half of all royalties go to the states where development occurs, more money to states. The Wasted Gas Rule will help states and local communities by giving them more money for important services, like education and badly needed infrastructure.

5. It will set standards for better practices in the future.
The rule will require oil and gas companies to collect data through metering to accurately calculate the amount of methane that’s being vented, flared and leaked from operations on public lands. And oil and gas companies applying for new drilling permits will have to include a waste minimization plan to show how they will ensure that they waste as little natural gas as possible. This is critical for new oil and gas development to improve on past performance and will ensure that the rule will continue reducing waste from our shared resources well into the future.