BLM rule delay defies Congress, harms taxpayers, public health, and environment

The Trump administration has decided to indefinitely postpone a rule that requires oil and gas companies to minimize waste and fix leaks from oil and gas development on public land—a decision that violates federal law.

A broad coalition of conservation and public interest groups have joined the states of California and New Mexico in challenging the U.S. Department of the Interior’s move to indefinitely suspend implementation of the Bureau of Land Management Methane Waste Prevention Rule. The BLM, under the Trump administration’s direction, has provided notice that the rule, which is already in effect, will be postponed pending judicial review in the District of Wyoming, a move that runs counter to what is allowed under federal law.

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). The Trump administration’s decision not to enforce the BLM waste rule would allow industry to avoid these common-sense waste reduction measures, and continue to unnecessarily waste our publicly owned resources. Methane waste not only shortchanges taxpayers, it harms public health and contributes significantly to climate emissions.

  • 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.

The delay comes after requests made to Interior by the American Petroleum Institute and Western Energy Alliance, two oil and gas trade associations. Notably, the oil and gas industry failed in two prior attempts to derail the rule. In January 2017, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming denied a motion to enjoin the methane rule. In May 2017, the U.S. Senate voted to reject legislation advanced under the Congressional Review Act to eliminate the rule.

“Interior’s BLM methane waste rule delay flies in the face of overwhelming public support, Congress’ recent rejection of an attempt to repeal the rule, a federal court’s determination that an injunction halting implementation of the rule was not warranted, and, fundamentally, core precepts of federal law” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “Methane waste seriously and urgently threatens our climate, our pocketbook, and public health. If there was any doubt who Sec. Zinke serves in his position, it’s now abundantly clear it’s not the American public.”

“The methane waste rule delay is yet another action taken by the Trump Administration that aids oil and gas operators at the expense of the American public, and especially children, whose health is negatively impacted by the industry’s wasteful practices,” said Darin Schroeder, attorney with the Clean Air Task Force who is co-representing National Wildlife Federation.

“The waste of natural resources is something everyone should oppose, especially those who are concerned about the federal budget. Our natural resources shouldn’t be wasted just because it’s convenient for oil and gas companies. There are simple ways to avoid wasting these public resources and this rule finally requires companies to implement those measures. Delay only hurts the American public and our coffers,” said Anne Hedges, with the Montana Environmental Information Center.

“Methane pollution is invisible to the naked eye, so we can’t always see the enormous waste of our natural resources on public lands. But infrared technology exposes leaks, venting and dirty flares at oil and gas sites. I’ve seen the pollution, from California to New Mexico, Texas to Pennsylvania. People are getting sick because of leaky valves, tanks and wells. BLM needs to plug the leaks now,” said Jennifer Krill, Earthworks’ executive director.

Laura King, Western Environmental Law Center, 406-204-4852, Stuart Ross, Clean Air Task Force, 914-649-5037, Carol Davis, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, 928-221-7859, Mark Pearson, San Juan Citizens Alliance, 970-259-3583 x1, Hilary Lewis, Earthworks, 202-887-1872 x101, Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, 303-437-7663, Chris Merrill, Wyoming Outdoor Council, 307-349-7288, Natasha Leger, Citizens for a Healthy Community, 970-399-9700, Anne Hedges, Montana Environmental Information Center, 406-443-2520, Peter Hart, Wilderness Workshop, 303-475-4915, 

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