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BLM proposes new methane rule for public lands — again

Tim Hurst
Creative Commons/Flickr

News brief

The Bureau of Land Management has proposed a new rule to curb the release of methane from oil and gas drilling on public lands.

The Waste Prevention Rule, which the agency announced Monday, aims to limit the leaking, flaring and venting of the potent greenhouse gas, while wringing more in royalties from the companies extracting natural gas from federal lands.

“This rule is designed to ensure that taxpayers and communities benefit from oil and gas production as it continues,” said Nada Wolff Culver, the BLM's deputy director of policy and programs.

The BLM issued a final methane rule in 2016, but a federal judge in Wyoming halted its implementation and later vacated it. The Trump administration's attempt to suspend the rule in 2018 was also struck down. The litigation leaves the BLM with methane regulations written in 1979.

The agency estimates that the additional recovery of natural gas under the new rule would translate to $39.8 million more in annual royalties.

“When oil and gas are produced on federal lands, about half comes back to the American taxpayer , and about half goes to the states in which it is produced,” Culver said. “So if you're a resident of the state in which oil and gas is being produced, you benefit from the money that goes into the Treasury as an American taxpayer for the federal share.”

Between 2010 to 2020, roughly 44.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas was wasted every year, according to the BLM. That’s four times more than what was lost between 1990 to 2000.

“The amount of natural gas that is lost through venting and flaring and leaking has increased radically,” Culver said. “So now more than ever, we need to address this waste.”

Additionally, in the first 20 years after its release, methane is about 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The BLM outlined steps that lessees would have to take under the rule, including updating technology, creating plans for leak detection and charging a royalty payment if gas is wasted.

Don Schreiber is a ranch owner in New Mexico who lives near gas wells. The rule hits home for him.

“The idea that you would waste a nonrenewable resource that belongs to the public like methane simply because you would rather use the technicalities and the loopholes to get away with continuing to waste, that is extremely offensive to me,” he said.

He said the proposed rule is a step in the right direction, though he worries that hitting drillers who don't comply with added royalties will not work.

“It's generally a bad idea to try to get the richest corporations to stop something just by fining them or causing them to spend a little more money — they have all the money in the world,” Schreiber said.

A few states in the Mountain West have also taken action to prevent methane emissions. Colorado’s st rict rules have served as a model for federal agencies. New Mexico adopted a similar approach in April. Schreiber pointed out that these two states don't rely on added royalties as an enforcement mechanism.

The public can comment on the new rule for two months once it’s published in the Federal Register.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Emma VandenEinde
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