BLM Tackles Waste, Methane Pollution on Federal and Tribal Lands

FrackingWyo_92689731_RFIn an important step forward in curbing methane emissions from the nation’s oil and gas sector, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today announced a regulatory proposal aimed at wasteful practices that shortchange taxpayers, squander energy resources and threaten the Earth’s climate.  The proposal, which will apply to both new and existing oil and gas facilities, begins to fill an important gap left by the EPA in August when that agency proposed to reduce emissions only from future facilities, ignoring the millions of oil and gas emissions sources already in operation.

Oil and gas companies that operate on our nation’s federal and tribal lands are exploiting a resource that belongs to the public and the Native American tribes.  These operators should be held to the highest standards when it comes to avoiding the waste of the resource and minimizing the pollution from their activities.

BLM is the federal agency in charge of managing these public and tribal resources.  But the agency’s regulatory structure is woefully out-of-date and much too permissive of wasteful and inefficient practices.

In 2013, operators leaked, vented and flared 109 billion cubic feet of gas from operations on federal and tribal lands, enough gas to heat 1.5 million homes for a year.  From an environmental perspective, these operators emitted 1 million metric tons of methane to the atmosphere, the same near-term climate impact as the pollution from 23 coal-fired power plants or 19 million automobiles.

This wasted gas also means that companies are simply not paying millions of dollars in royalties rightly owed to U.S. taxpayers – money that should be going to fund schools and roads and other needs in our communities instead of being pocketed by industry.

Today, BLM announced that it is rising to the methane waste challenge by proposing a strong but feasible and cost-effective set of regulations to crack down on waste of the public’s resource.  Following the path of leading states, such as Colorado and Wyoming, BLM has proposed requiring operators to improve the efficiency of both existing and future operations by:

  • Prohibiting the harmful practice of venting gas to the atmosphere;
  • reducing flaring by (1) placing a volumetric limit on the amount of gas an operator can flare and (2) requiring the submission of gas capture plans with all applications for permits to drill (APDs);
  • conducting regular inspections of their wells and repairing leaks quickly; and
  • requiring older, inefficient equipment, such as high-bleed pneumatic devices, to be replaced with more advanced low-bleed or no-bleed versions.

BLM has also included some flexibility in its proposal so that states that have shown leadership by enacting their own strong regulations will be able to continue drive efforts to curb waste and pollution within their jurisdictions.

Even though many leading companies are already implanting these practices, we fully expect the usual voices from the industry trade associations to proclaim that the sky is falling and that they should not be subjected to additional rules when the price of oil is so low.  But lagging prices can never be an excuse for ignoring environmental protection.  After all, we don’t abide oil spills just because the price of the oil has fallen.  We shouldn’t tolerate wasteful methane pollution, especially from operators exploiting the public’s resources.

Our staff will pore over the proposed rule in the coming days and weeks and deploy our technical, scientific and legal resources to ensure BLM adopts a strong and durable regulatory regime that protects taxpayers from waste and the planet from harmful methane emissions.

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  • Regional Director, Rocky Mountain Office
    Dan Grossman is the Regional Director for Environmental Defense Fund's Rocky Mountain Regional Office in Boulder, Colorado. He joined the organization in May of 2006, after serving ten years in the Colorado General Assembly.

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