Nov. 15, 2016
BY VALERIE VOLVOVICI
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Interior Department finalized rules on Tuesday, Nov. 15, aimed at preventing methane leaks from oil and gas production on federal and tribal lands, one of the last major Obama administration rules aimed at fighting climate change.
Interior’s Bureau of Land Management said on Tuesday the rule, updating 30-year-old regulations that govern flaring, venting and natural gas leaks from oil and gas production, could avoid wasting up to 41 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year.
“This rule to prevent waste of our nation’s natural gas supplies is good government, plain and simple,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
“We are proving that we can cut harmful methane emissions that contribute to climate change, while putting in place standards that make good economic sense for the nation.”
Environmental groups, including an affiliate of the Dakota Resource Council, praised the rule, but industry and some western states called it unnecessary. The Western Energy Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association of America filed a lawsuit against the BLM in a Wyoming court. The incoming Trump administration has promised to cut what it calls superfluous restrictions on energy production.
An Interior Department fact sheet said that between 2009 and 2015, oil and gas producers vented, flared and leaked 462 BCF of natural gas on federal and Indian lands, wasting as much as $23 million annually in royalty revenue.
Venting and leaks during oil and gas operations cause major emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The rule would phase in a limit on flaring over several years affecting 16 percent of oil wells, which account for 87 percent of gas flared, the BLM said.
“Fort Berthold P.O.W.E.R. lauds the Bureau of Land Management as well as the Obama Administration for releasing the methane rules,” said Lisa DeVille, president of Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights in a statement. “The rules will ensure that natural gas is no longer wasted and that tribal mineral owners are compensated for this one-time harvest. The rules will also ensure that air quality will improve on and around Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.”
DeVille said Dakota Resource Council and Fort Berthold P.O.W.E.R. are calling for North Dakota to enforce and accept these needed standards so the state’s natural resources “are no longer wasted.”
Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said in a statement the BLM rules would duplicate regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency and states. He said he plans to prevent the rule when the new congressional session convenes in January.
“This rule has everything to do with the Obama administration’s goal of shutting down the oil and gas industry,” Cramer said.
Oil and gas operators can comply by expanding gas-capture technology or connecting wells to existing infrastructure through gathering lines.
Operators would have to use technology such as infrared cameras to detect methane leaks, invisible to the naked eye. BLM could also set and adjust royalty rates for oil and gas drilled on federal land to at or above 12.5 percent. Currently BLM has no discretion to raise the rate.
“Today’s announcement is a win for Western taxpayers. For too long, big oil companies have wasted natural gas that belongs to all Americans with no accountability,” said Chris Saeger, director of NGO Western Values Project.
Forum News Service contributed to this report.