Conservation groups today appealed a federal District Court judge in Wyoming’s stay of 2016 methane waste rule implementation. The 2016 rule compels oil and gas companies operating on public lands to take reasonable measures to prevent the waste of methane, the primary ingredient of natural gas that, when wasted to the atmosphere, degrades air quality and, as a greenhouse gas over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, harms our climate.
The 2016 rule, having gone through a reasoned and informed process, benefits public health, taxpayers, the climate, and air quality. Today’s decision, in acceding to the Trump administration’s rollback of health and environmental protections, places the interests of billion-dollar corporations ahead of everyday Americans.
“Methane waste seriously and urgently threatens our climate, our pocketbook, and public health,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “We will not stand by and accede to the Trump administration’s efforts to rollback safeguards essential to the public interest. Appealing this decision is the only option.”
“The 2016 rule was, and remains, absolutely necessary to battle the wasteful oil and gas practices on public lands,” said Darin Schroeder, associate attorney at Clean Air Task Force. “We will continue our efforts to make sure that the 2016 rule is fully effective.”
The Western Environmental Law Center represents the Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Earthworks, Montana Environmental Information Center, San Juan Citizens Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, Wilderness Workshop, and the Wyoming Outdoor Council in the litigation. The Western Environmental Law Center and Clean Air Task Force jointly represent the National Wildlife Federation.
The BLM waste rule, finalized in 2016, updates antiquated, 30-year old regulations. It requires companies to fix leaky, faulty equipment and reduce natural gas waste on public lands. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, enough natural gas was unnecessarily wasted and leaked between 2009 and 2015 to serve more than 6 million households for a year. The updated waste rule requires companies to perform leak detection and repair with affordable, off-the-shelf technologies, and restricts methane venting (deliberately releasing gas into the atmosphere), and flaring (burning off gas unused at the wellhead). Methane waste not only shortchanges taxpayers, it harms public health and contributes significantly to climate emissions.
According to 2018 Colorado College State of the Rockies polling, an overwhelming majority, 75 percent of Westerners, support regulations “to require oil and gas producers who operate on national public lands to use updated equipment and technology to prevent leaks of methane gas during the extraction process and reduce the need to burn off excess natural gas into the air.”
The BLM methane waste rule was developed and adopted to address:
- Waste:According to Interior, in 2014, oil and gas companies wasted more than 4 percent of the natural gas they produced on federal lands, sufficient gas to supply nearly 1.5 million households with gas for a year.
- Public health:Methane released by the oil and gas industry comes packaged with other toxic pollutants— benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene — and smog-forming volatile organic compounds.
- Climate:Methane is a greenhouse gas 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide during the time it remains in the atmosphere.
- Taxpayers:The BLM methane waste rule would earn taxpayers about $800 million in royalties on publicly owned methane resources over the next decade. Since 1980, lax provisions have resulted in BLM rubber-stamping industry requests to vent and flare natural gas and to avoid paying royalties. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates lost royalties at nearly $23 million annually under the antiquated regime.