Reducing Methane Pollution on Public Lands: BLM/EPA Waste Rules (Nation)

The oil and gas industry is the nation’s second largest industrial climate polluter after power plants and is the largest source of methane pollution. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, more than 86 times as potent as carbon dioxide in causing climate change. Oil and gas companies knowingly leak methane from poorly maintained equipment, deliberately vent it to the atmosphere, and burn it as a waste product from oil drilling.

We believe that companies drilling for oil and gas on public lands should be required to use readily available pollution controls to cut these harmful methane emissions and reduce the waste of our nation's natural resources.

This is no minor issue—the methane gas wasted every year from drilling on public lands is equivalent to the climate pollution from 34 coal-fired power plants or 28 million cars. Conserved for use by homes, schools, and businesses, that’s enough energy for nearly 12 million homes.

The upshot of careless industry practices has been more methane in the atmosphere and less in the pipeline for consumers, reduced Federal royalties of almost $400 million over the past decade, and more wells, pipelines, and related equipment sprawling across public lands throughout the West.

The federal Government Accounting Office conservatively estimates that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which manages most of the oil and gas drilling on public lands, could eliminate nearly half of the methane pollution by requiring companies to implement readily-available, low-cost pollution equipment and improve maintenance practices.

BLM acknowledges that “reducing methane emissions is a powerful way to take action on climate change.” Accordingly, President Obama made new methane waste rules a priority under his Climate Action Plan announced in March 2014. These new rules, updating the current rules written in 1980, will apply to all oil and gas development on federal public lands.

Since 2008, WELC has been leading a nearly 100-member coalition of local, regional, and national groups working hard to make sure that the BLM develops the strongest possible rules to reduce the oil and gas industry's wasteful and damaging practices. Once adopted, we will stick around to ensure that the rules are strictly enforced.   

Updates:

3/28/14: The White House released the Climate Action Plan – Strategy to Cut Methane Emissions. Read the WH strategy in the Related Document section below.

1/14/15: GOOD NEWS! The White House announced its plan to reduce harmful methane emissions from new AND existing oil and gas operations on public lands managed by BLM. The President has a goal to reduce methane emissions by 45 percent over the next decade. The Environmental Protection Agency will issue the proposed regulations in summer 2015, with final adoption set for 2016.

8/18/15: EPA released its proposed methane emissions rule. Read our statement here.

10/14/15: WELC sued BLM for documents pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request made over one year ago. WELC requested information about applications and approvals to vent or flare under BLM’s current methane waste direction, called NTL-4a. Especially important to our methane waste rule advocacy are the memoranda of understanding between states and BLM addressing regulation of venting/flaring of gas from federal leases. BLM is required to respond to such requests in 20 days or less, but has not released any documents.

1/22/16: BLM released its proposed methane waste rule. Read our statement here.

4/22/16: We submitted to BLM detailed legal and technical recommendations, co-authored by the Western Organization of Resource Councils and co-signed by a diverse group of 35 partners from across the West (here).

5/12/16: The Obama administration finalized its EPA rule, strengthening it by increasing the frequency of required leak surveys for some sources, eliminating exemptions for marginal wells, and eliminating a "step-back" provision loophole that would have resulted in less frequent inspections for some sources. Read our news release on the final rule here.

To achieve the rule’s full potential to prevent climate pollution, WELC will be pressing for changes to strengthen federal planning and management of where and when oil and gas development can take place, impose tighter controls on venting, flaring and leaks, close loopholes, and provide opportunities for public involvement.

We traveled to D.C. in late spring to meet with White House officials, congressional delegations, and Interior and BLM officials to press our case for strengthening the rule. A strong methane waste rule will give WELC a powerful new tool to protect public lands from the relentless pollution perpetuated by the oil and gas industry.

11/15/16: The BLM issued its final rule, which looks to be very much in line with our hopes to reduce methane pollution from oil and gas on public lands. That day, two oil and gas indstry organizations, along with the states of Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana sued the federal government over the rules. WELC intervened to defend the rule on behalf of 11 clients: Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, Montana Environmental Information Center, National Wildlife Federation, San Juan Citizens Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, Wilderness Workshop, Earthworks, and Wyoming Outdoor Council.

1/17/17: The court rejected an industry request for a preliminary injunction to halt implementation of the rule.

4/12/17: We're fighting a Congressional Review Act effort by Republicans to rescind the BLM methane rule. The effort already passed the House, and the Senate has until mid-May to vote on the issue. Because such a vote would prevent the BLM from writing a rule "significantly the same" ever again in the future, Republicans are having a hard time getting the necessary votes to repeal. We are keeping the pressure on to retain this common-sense rule.

4/12/17, cont'd: By unanimous vote in the New Mexico state Senate, legislation we helped draft to support future regulation of oil and gas development passed. Specifically, the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division will be required to make public the data they gathered for the past year on methane venting and flaring, the gas capture plans they require, and drilling permit requests.

(WELC project #686)

This project affects methane emissions from oil & gas operations on public lands across the nation.