Opinion

Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Rule Faces Uncertain Future

A year ago this week, we experienced one of the only true victories for taxpayers and clean air of the Trump administration.

In its rush to repeal regulations from the Obama administration, Congress sought to utilize the Congressional Review Act to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, which was designed to prevent leaks and collect royalties on wasted methane gas from federal lands. After easily passing in the House, the Senate was on the verge of approving it, as well, when in a moment of tremendous leadership, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) bucked their colleagues and joined every Democratic senator in opposing the efforts of special interests to gut the rule.

This was a huge moment. Had the CRA been successful, not only would the rule not have gone into effect, but the BLM would have been prohibited from promulgating similar rules in the future, allowing industry to continue wasteful practices that are within its power to prevent — at taxpayers’ expense due to lost royalties that ought to be collected.

A year later, despite this bipartisan vote of support for the methane rule, the Trump administration continues its efforts to undo the rule, which was finalized after years of collaboration with stakeholders and industry groups. The BLM is undergoing its final review and will release a new policy shortly, one that, if the proposed rule is any indication, will turn back the clock to the previous inadequate standards.

While it is certainly understandable for a new administration to seek to alter the policies of the previous one, taking a sledgehammer to the methane rule is a mistake. First, before the current policy was instituted, the problem of lost gas on federal lands was significant and worsening as development of natural gas increased.

The total amount of natural gas flared from BLM-administered leases doubled from 2009 to 2013. Lost gas from federal and Indian lands in 2014 alone had a sales value of $444 million and a royalty value of more than $50 million. Between 2009 and 2015, federal and Indian onshore wells vented or flared enough gas to serve more than 6 million households for a year.

What is particularly troubling is that much of this gas could have been captured, if a policy like the methane rule, which requires oil and gas companies to check for and repair leaking equipment using cost-effective technologies, were in place. It’s possible to address leaks quickly and cheaply due to the more than 100 companies that produce and service methane mitigation technologies headquartered in the United States, with more than 500 different facilities.

Second, we also know that the BLM methane waste rule is achievable by the oil and gas industry. The rule is based in large part on the stricter comprehensive methane rule adopted by Colorado nearly five years ago — Regulation 7.

That rule has been remarkably successful in reducing methane waste. It has been implemented without lawsuits, calls for repeal or objection from gas producers. Moreover, one study showed that oil and gas industry players believe the rule’s benefits outweighed its costs. And it has helped create new high-paying, blue-collar maintenance jobs in the oil and gas industry.

America cannot afford to turn back the clock on methane waste. Just as common sense prevailed one year ago when Collins, Graham and McCain opposed eliminating the methane rule, I hope the Trump administration will decide not to eliminate the important provisions within it that serve the public’s health, saves the government money, and supports high-paying American jobs in a growing, innovative field.

 

Isaac Brown currently serves as the executive director of the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions, a business coalition of companies in the methane detection and mitigation sector, and he previously served as an energy adviser to several senior members of the U.S. Congress.

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