We are now in the home stretch of the Obama Administration, and there is much to be done. Luckily, whether it is figuring out how best to protect our natural resources or ensuring that we are producing energy in line with 21st-century technology and values, the Department of the Interior is busy modernizing the management of our federal lands.
So it is frustrating to watch Congress using the federal budget to try and hamstring Interior’s experts and land managers without justification or logic.
Instead of seeking to pass the necessary bills to fund the federal government, the House of Representatives is continuing to waste the precious little time it has before the summer recess creating poison pill riders to undo new guidelines that will reduce waste and pollution from oil and gas development.
This year has been a seminal one for federal guidelines on energy development and pollution. One important milestone, in January, was the release of a long-anticipated Bureau of Land Management proposal to regulate reduce natural gas waste, expected to be finalized later this year.
And in May, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized guidelines for methane pollution on future oil and gas development.
The BLM proposal will be crucial to ensuring that American taxpayers are seeing their oil and gas resources used for the public good, instead of being released into the atmosphere or burned off.
It will put in place smart and low-cost solutions to address harmful leaks and other inefficiencies common to oil and gas operations. And rather than this wasted gas contributing to pollution and public health issues, the proposal will put it to use for energy.
In recent kangaroo court-style Congressional hearings prompted by the oil and gas industry, it has been argued that neither the EPA’s rule nor the BLM’s rule is necessary because the industry is already regulating itself effectively.
But the truth is that since 2009, enough natural gas has been wasted by oil and gas operations on public lands to power 5 million homes. That is enough to heat the city of Chicago for a year. And the BLM’s rule will also ensure that, by being captured formerly wasted natural gas will return $11 million to the federal treasury.
Oil and gas companies and their allies are also claiming that the EPA and BLM rules are redundant—that they are not both necessary. However, the fact is that the BLM has a mandate (under Congressional statute, ironically) to prevent waste of federal resources.
And this proposal will affect future oil and gas development, like the EPA regulation, but also current operations, which will substantially reduce waste into the future. Finally, the BLM’s proposal will actually reduce flaring from oil and gas—which is so concentrated in some areas it can be seen from space—whereas the EPA’s rule does not.
The BLM’s rule was modeled after state regulations Colorado implemented to reduce methane pollution in the state nearly two years ago. (Methane is the primary component of natural gas.) And Colorado’s regulations have already proven themselves beneficial—including in ways the industry predicted wouldn’t happen.
One recent study from the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions, a group of private companies that sell technology and equipment to reduce natural gas waste, has shown that in Colorado the benefits to the public and the industry have significantly outweighed any short-term costs.
And while Colorado—the only state with comprehensive regulations governing natural gas waste—is leading the way, North Dakota and Wyoming have also recently put into place some smart ideas on a smaller scale. But most states have not addressed methane waste and pollution, and the federal government needs to ensure that everyone is on a level playing field.
As long as oil and gas are being extracted on public lands, we should be working to make sure that these resources are being developed efficiently, that taxpayers are getting their fair share from the resources that we all own and that American jobs are being created through innovation and the technology necessary to mitigate methane waste.
The Bureau of Land Management proposal is good for taxpayers, the environment and the economy. It is too bad that some members of Congress are working to undermine experts and ignore the ample evidence that these regulations are needed and that they work—but it is not too late to let the Department of Interior do its job.
Josh Mantell is Carbon Management Campaign Manager at The Wilderness Society.