Reducing Methane Pollution on Public Lands

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

WELC works with a broad coalition of advocates toward the goal Reducing Methane Pollution on Public Lands.

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. These companies knowingly leak methane from poorly maintained equipment, deliberately vent it to the atmosphere, and burn it as a waste product from oil drilling. Since 2008, WELC has led a coalition of nearly 100 organizations working with the government to put a stop to all this waste and pollution.

In addition to being a powerful greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide, methane is bad for human health and the environment, and its waste hurts taxpayers. 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. That’s enough energy to power nearly 12 million homes for a full year. In addition, this lost methane means taxpayers have lost out on royalties of almost $400 million over the past decade. The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees oil and gas development on public lands, is responsible for minimizing the waste of these resources.

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.

Under the Obama administration, and with input from environmentalists, fossil fuel companies, the public, and more, the EPA and BLM wrote new rules to reduce methane waste from oil and gas on public lands. Industry and some fossil fuel-heavy states challenged the rules in court, and WELC successfully intervened to defend the common-sense measures. Additionally, we helped defeat Congressional attempts to use an obscure and extreme tool called the Congressional Review Act to repeal the rule and ensure that no substantially similar citizen protection is ever enacted again. We also defeated in court a Trump administration attempt to illegally stay key portions of the BLM methane rule. We also defeated an effort by BLM to delay the rule for one year.

More recently, BLM enacted a new rule gutting the 2016 methane waste rule. We worked for a decade to get this common-sense measure, negotiated with industry’s input, across the finish line. In July 2020, we defeated the Trump administration in court resoundingly, reinstating the Obama-era methane rule. However, another case brought by oil and gas interests in the District of Wyoming went the other way, and the BLM methane waste prevention rule was invalidated. The judge in that case said BLM overstepped its limitations by considering greenhouse gas emissions limitations a benefit to “public welfare.” We’re appealing the decision to a higher court because that logic doesn’t pass muster.



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