Suspension of the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane and Waste Prevention Rule
What is at Risk, How to Comment and Talking Points
The public comment period on the proposal closed on November 6, 2017
The BLM Methane and Waste Prevention Rule
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a rule in November 2016 to reduce waste of natural gas from flaring, venting and leaks from oil and gas production on public and tribal lands. The requirements are designed to limit waste of federal natural gas resources and avoid loss of royalty payments to federal, state and tribal governments for the sale of their resources. The rule has the additional benefit of reducing air pollutant emissions that drive smog and climate change. The rule replaces old and ineffective regulations that had not been updated in 35 years.
The Methane and Waste Prevention Rule sets flaring limits that over several years will gradually phase down flaring of natural gas and increase its capture and productive use. It requires oil and gas producers to inspect their operations for gas leaks using effective modern detection instruments, such as infrared cameras. It also requires operators to use affordable technologies and practices to minimize gas venting. The rule gives operators until January 17, 2018 — more than a year after it was issued — to meet many of the requirements.
Many operators are voluntarily taking steps required by the rule to reduce flaring, venting and leaks because the technology is available, operators know how to do it, and it makes good business sense to sell natural gas rather than release it to the air. Nevertheless, wasteful natural gas emissions from oil wells have been increasing, and there is no indication that voluntary action alone will solve the problem.
The Trump Administration Rollback Proposal
The BLM is proposing to delay implementation of almost every substantive provision of the Waste Prevention Rule for 18 months, until January 17, 2019. During this period, the Trump Administration will consider how it will modify or pull back the rule. The rationale for the current proposal is to avoid imposing compliance costs on operators for requirements “that may be rescinded or significantly revised” by the Trump Administration.
Suggested Talking Points About the Standards
Large quantities of natural gas are wasted during oil and gas production. Between 2009 and 2015 oil and gas producers on federal and Indian land vented, flared or leaked about 462 billion feet of natural gas. That is enough to supply about 6.2 million households for a year. This constitutes a waste of valuable energy resources that could otherwise be productively used — and it should not be allowed to happen.
In addition, taxpayers, tribes and states lose out on royalties when natural gas is wasted. The Government Accountability Office estimated that the federal government and states lose up to $23 million in royalty revenues annually from this waste.
This waste also harms our health and the environment, as natural gas is largely made up of methane. Methane is a dangerous air pollutant – a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and smog. Although BLM’s rule is designed to protect against resource waste and royalty loss, it has the additional benefit of reducing methane emissions. To slow dangerous climate change, it is critical to control methane, which is 86 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year period.
There are reasonable, readily available, and affordable ways to capture and sell natural gas instead of flaring, venting, or leaking it. Delaying this rule, as the Administration proposes to do, would cost taxpayers, states and tribes millions of dollars every year, squander energy resources, pollute our air, and harm our communities. Instead, we should implement the Waste Prevention Rule and put to use the natural gas that we save – that’s a win-win for taxpayers, states and tribes, households and industry, and our health and climate.
Contrary to industry claims, the American people need the protection of the BLM methane rule in addition to the protection of the EPA methane rule. As noted by a February 3 “CRS Insight” report by the Congressional Research Service:
- The purpose of EPA’s rule is to control of methane pollution. The purpose of BLM’s rule is to avoid waste of public energy resources and loss of royalty revenue to governments.
- The two rules differ in coverage. For example, EPA’s methane rule for the oil and gas sector only covers facilities constructed modified or reconstructed after September 18, 2015 – but BLM’s rule covers all facilities, both new and existing.
- Although many emission sources are covered by both rules, the BLM rule provides an option for operators to comply with the EPA, state, local or tribal requirements in lieu of the BLM requirements when those entities have adopted potentially overlapping requirements that are at least as effective.
- BLM’s rule updates earlier BLM requirements to more clearly and specifically define when loss of gas is subject to royalties. This isn’t addressed by EPA’s rule.
Contrary to industry claims about “regulatory burden,” the 2016 rule’s reasonable steps to limit resource waste and royalty loss are an appropriate cost of doing business in a responsible manner. They are a needed update to antiquated BLM regulations. The agency’s 2016 analysis showed that the benefits of the rule far outweigh its costs.
There is more that you can do
It would be great if well-reasoned, fact-based comments were enough to win the day, but in today’s deregulatory environment, raising the political stakes of regulatory rollbacks is crucial to stopping or slowing them down. Submitting comments is a good first step. For rules that are particularly important to you, please consider taking one or more of the following steps, too.
- Write to your members of Congress and other elected officials. Let them know your concerns and ask them to weigh in with the agency proposing the rollback.
- Write letters to the editor and even op-eds in your local papers.
- Organize or participate in letter-writing campaigns.
- Join or organize demonstrations.
- Talk to your friends, colleagues and neighbors and encourage them to comment and otherwise join in this effort. Voicing your concerns on social media can be a very effective way to spread the word.
For more information
NRDC fact sheet on BLM methane rule: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/media-uploads/blm_methane-hill_factsheet-final_2017_01_13.pdf
EDF web page on methane waste on federal lands: https://www.edf.org/climate/federal-rules-target-costly-waste-methane
BLM’s October 5, 2017, proposed rule to delay compliance dates: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/10/05/2017-21294/waste-prevention-production-subject-to-royalties-and-resource-conservation-delay-and-suspension-of
BLM’s November 18, 2016, methane and waste prevention rule (official BLM title is “Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation”: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/11/18/2016-27637/waste-prevention-production-subject-to-royalties-and-resource-conservation
Congressional Research Service paper, “EPA’s and BLM’s Methane Rules,” February 3, 2017. This paper compares similarities and differences in EPA and BLM methane rules. Available at: https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/IN10645.html
 Fact sheet on Methane and Waste Prevention Rule https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/files/uploads/methane_waste_prevention_rule_factsheet_final.pdf
 GAO, Federal Oil and Gas Leases Opportunities Exit to Capture Vented and Flared Natural Gas, Which would Increase Royalty Payments and Reduce Greenhouse Gases,