Tomorrow, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management will finalize a one-year suspension of a regulation adopted just a year ago to reduce methane waste on public lands. This is the latest in a series of attempts by the Trump administration and Congress to eliminate this rule, and part of a larger effort to reverse all Obama-era policies targeting climate pollution and to weaken public lands protections. The administration will now work to permanently repeal or rewrite the rule.
“To justify this suspension, BLM has cooked the books to find that the rule, which it said last year would provide benefits of up to $200 million per year, now magically would result in costs if implemented next year,” said Thomas Singer, senior policy advisor at the Western Environmental Law Center. “BLM’s relentless effort to gut this rule reflects the sway that oil and gas lobbyists have with the new administration and their burning desire to shift the costs of doing business onto the public.”
The methane rule, updating 30-year-old regulations, was developed to prevent the waste of publicly owned natural gas due to wasteful industry practices such as venting (deliberately releasing gas into the atmosphere), flaring (burning off gas rather than capturing it), and failing to find and fix leaks. It requires operators to adopt readily available measures to end these practices that are already being used by a few leading oil and gas producers.
The American Petroleum Institute and Western Energy Alliance, two oil and gas trade associations, requested the suspension. Notably, the oil and gas industry failed in three prior attempts to derail the rule. In October 2017, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California rejected an illegal effort by the Trump administration to delay implementation of the rule. In May 2017, the U.S. Senate voted to reject legislation advanced under the Congressional Review Act to eliminate the rule. And in January 2017, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming denied a motion from oil and gas industry trade associations to enjoin the methane rule.
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.