New BLM rules would significantly impact oil and gas operations in the Southwest


As part of the Obama administration’s plans announced today to cut methane pollution generated by America’s oil and gas industry, the White House said that the Bureau of Land Management would introduce new rules this spring aimed at reducing methane emissions from both new and existing oil and gas development on the nation’s public lands.

The administration said anticipated action by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce methane emissions would cover new but not existing oil and gas operations. However, BLM’s forthcoming rules will be more comprehensive, covering both new and existing sources. One recent study forecast that nearly 90 percent of methane emissions in 2018 will come from sources in existence in 2011.

The White House’s announcement was praised by conservationists, including the Western Environmental Law Center, a public-interest law firm leading a coalition of climate advocacy groups working to secure tougher methane pollution rules from BLM.

WELC and its allies have met with the White House and BLM for more than two years in an attempt to convince the federal government that immediate action is needed to reduce methane pollution from oil and gas operations on public lands. Methane is a climate pollutant 86 times more potent than carbon pollution over a 20-year timeframe.

“This announcement is a very big deal,” said Dr. Thomas Singer, WELC’s Senior Policy Advisor. “The White House is listening to what we are saying and is beginning to take appropriate action. We’re very excited that the new BLM rules will provide an opportunity to protect our climate, our communities, and our children’s futures from dangerous methane pollution.”

This is key because BLM oversees oil and gas leasing and drilling on 700 million acres of public lands. Currently, 34.6 million acres of these lands are under lease by the oil and gas industry with more than 63,000 wells accounting for roughly 11 percent of the nation’s natural gas supply and five percent of its oil supply. The oil and gas industry is the second largest industrial source of climate pollution in the United States, behind only coal-fired power plants.

“We are pressing BLM to reform its planning for oil and gas development to stop fragmented drilling and to ensure natural gas makes it to homes and businesses, instead of being wasted,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, WELC Executive Director. “And we want BLM to require industry to deploy readily available technologies that capture methane and keep it out of our atmosphere.”

While it will take time for the administration to complete these rules, uncontrolled oil and gas development continues to spread across the West. In the Southwest’s San Juan Basin, methane pollution spews from upwards of 25,000 existing gas wells that create the nation’s largest methane pollution “hot spot,” which was recently discovered by NASA satellite observations, and BLM is aggressively permitting new shale oil wells around the iconic Chaco Culture Historical Park.

Indeed, much of the West’s oil and gas producing regions sit amidst communities and precious landscapes, including western Colorado’s Piceance Basin and the Niobrabra Formation north of Denver, the Powder River Basin and the Green River Basin in Wyoming, the Bakken-Three Forks Formation in eastern Montana, and the Uinta Basin in eastern Utah. Just four of these Western basins account for almost 30 percent of total U.S. methane venting from oil and gas operations.

WELC and its allies are working in these basins and across the West to rein in irresponsible oil and gas development.

“The vast extent of oil and gas infrastructure on our public lands leaks methane at every turn, a result of careless practices,” Schlenker-Goodrich said. “This is totally unacceptable. The BLM’s new methane pollution regulations are a positive first step in addressing the harmful impact oil and gas development is having in the West and across the nation.”

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