Conservation Groups to Appeal Court Delay of Oil-industry Methane Waste Rule

Center for Biological Diversity's picture

CASPER, Wyo.— Conservation groups today agreed to appeal a federal judge’s ruling to delay implementation of the 2016 methane waste rule while the Trump administration works on rescinding the regulations. The U.S. District Court judge this week agreed to the Bureau of Land Management’s request to let the oil and gas industry ignore the rule, which had been upheld in February by a federal court in California.

The methane rule requires oil and gas companies operating on public lands to take reasonable measures to prevent the waste of methane, a dangerously potent greenhouse gas. Methane waste shortchanges taxpayers, harms public health and contributes significantly to climate emissions.

The Trump administration wants to kill sensible methane rules for the oil and gas industry that save money and curb dangerous pollution,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The court’s decision to delay the waste rule looked only at what compliance would cost the industry, not what it would save the public. We’ll keep fighting Trump’s efforts to shortchange the public and pollute the air.”

“Methane waste seriously and urgently threatens our climate, our pocketbook and public health,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “We will not stand by and accede to the Trump administration’s efforts to rollback safeguards essential to the public interest. This decision will be appealed.”

“The 2016 rule was, and remains, absolutely necessary to battle the irresponsible oil and gas practices on the publicly owned lands,” said Darin Schroeder, associate attorney at Clean Air Task Force. “We will not stop our efforts to make sure that the 2016 rule is fully effective.”

Background

The BLM waste rule updates 30-year-old regulations requiring companies to fix leaky, faulty equipment and reduce natural gas waste on public lands. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, enough natural gas was wasted and leaked between 2009 and 2015 to serve more than 6 million households for a year. The updated waste rule requires companies to perform leak detection and repair with affordable, off-the-shelf technologies. It also restricts methane venting (deliberately releasing gas into the atmosphere) and flaring (burning off gas unused at the wellhead).

According to the 2018 Colorado College State of the Rockies, 75 percent of Westerners support regulations “to require oil and gas producers who operate on national public lands to use updated equipment and technology to prevent leaks of methane gas during the extraction process and reduce the need to burn off excess natural gas into the air.”

The BLM methane waste rule was developed and adopted to address:

  • Waste: According to the Interior Department, in 2014 oil and gas companies wasted more than 4 percent of the natural gas they produced on federal lands, sufficient gas to supply nearly 1.5 million households with gas for a year.
  • Public health: Methane released by the oil and gas industry comes packaged with other toxic pollutants — benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene — and smog-forming volatile organic compounds.
  • Climate: Methane is a greenhouse gas 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide during the time it remains in the atmosphere.
  • Taxpayers: The BLM methane waste rule would earn taxpayers about $800 million in royalties on publicly owned methane resources over the next decade. Since 1980 lax provisions have resulted in BLM rubber-stamping industry requests to vent and flare natural gas and to avoid paying royalties. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates lost royalties at nearly $23 million annually under the antiquated regime.

The Western Environmental Law Center represents the Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Earthworks, Montana Environmental Information Center, San Juan Citizens Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, Wilderness Workshop and the Wyoming Outdoor Council in the litigation. The Western Environmental Law Center and Clean Air Task Force jointly represent the National Wildlife Federation.

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