Oil and Gas Lobby Pretends Senators Can Have Their Cake and Eat It Too

Investors like to study data when making decisions. And in the case of methane emissions from oil and gas drilling on public lands, the evidence is clear and shows a serious problem: Hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer-owned energy resources are lost each year through flaring, intentional releases, and invisible leaks. This is bad for investors who want that product brought to market, rather than damaging the long-term reputation of natural gas as a cleaner fuel.

The natural gas waste problem is widely known. It’s been reported in company data to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has issued multiple reports about it. Even the new Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has publicly acknowledged that “methane waste is a problem.”

Last year, after years of research, analysis, and stakeholder input, the Bureau of Land Management finalized common sense standards requiring companies to use best practices to reduce waste and the squandering of resources. Unfortunately, rather than supporting this effort, some Senators are actively working to undermine this effort. With one blunt vote, Congress may indefinitely tie BLM’s hands from meaningfully addressing these emissions.

The Senate is considering using the Congressional Review Act to nullify the BLM rules. And while industry lobbyists and their allies have openly suggested that the rule could be sent back to the agency for review and revisions, that is just not the case. The Congressional Review Act is a very blunt tool that would prohibit BLM from issuing a similar rule without going back to Congress and getting the explicit authority to do so. What this would amount to is years of delay and uncertainty, and billions of taxpayer dollars wasted.

If this legislation passes, the only steps Zinke could take to address the problem would be non-regulatory in nature, relying on companies to end wasteful practices and reduce pollution on their own. Unfortunately, investors are very familiar with the way the oil and gas industry works, and while we’re encouraged that some leading operators have taken steps to reduce their emissions, the majority have not unless explicitly required, and continue to waste valuable product.

Using voluntary measures to address the oil and gas industry’s pollution is not a new idea, but time and time again these efforts have failed to achieve the scale of pollution reductions we need and know are economically possible. The EPA’s Natural Gas STAR program, the leading voluntary program to reduce methane emissions in the industry, has existed for decades and still has a minuscule sign-up rate, hovering around one percent of all oil and gas companies.

Even operators admit the industry won’t take sizeable steps forward without sensible standards. Oil and gas operator Southwestern Energy said, “If we don’t have a requirement that industry … do something to improve the way it conducts its operations, then a market will not be created to drive innovation.” The benefits of a strong market signal prioritizing emission reduction is reinforced by a recent report that found companies in the methane mitigation sector experienced up to 30 percent business growth in states with common-sense methane rules.

Senators should understand that a vote for the Congressional Review Act is a green light for the oil and gas industry to continue to pollute and waste taxpayer resources without any accountability. Should this vote go forward, there is no Plan B that would comprehensively address this pollution problem.

The only sensible way forward is to preserve the BLM’s authority to be a good steward of our nation’s energy resources, and that means not tying their hands from using the best policy tools. We hope all senators will take the responsible step and vote “no.”


Andrew Logan is the director of oil and gas at Ceres — a sustainability nonprofit organization working with the most influential investors and companies to build leadership and drive solutions throughout the economy.

Morning Consult welcomes op-ed submissions on policy, politics and business strategy in our coverage areas. Updated submission guidelines can be found here.


Energy Brief: White House Denies Reports That U.S. Is Rethinking Paris Withdrawal

Three months after President Donald Trump said the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord without more favorable terms, the Trump administration is said to be considering remaining in the agreement. National security adviser H.R. McMaster denied that Trump is reconsidering his decision to pull out of the international accord, while noting that the door remains open for a better deal down the road.

Energy Brief: Week in Review & What’s Ahead

National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn will convene a meeting of energy and climate ministers from about a dozen countries on Monday, ahead of the U.N. General Assembly meeting this week, for an informal discussion on how they can “move forward productively” on international climate change negotiations.

Energy Brief: Valero ‘Significantly Underestimated’ Harvey-Related Benzene Leak at Houston Plant

Valero Energy Partners informed the EPA that the company thinks it “significantly underestimated” the amount of chemicals and benzene that leaked after a light crude storage tank’s roof was damaged at its Houston refinery as a result of Hurricane Harvey, according to a state official. Valero initially reported to the state that the spill released seven pounds of benzene, a carcinogenic chemical, into the air.

Energy Brief: Top White House Official to Discuss Climate Change With Ministers From About a Dozen Countries

The White House said National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn will convene a meeting of energy and climate ministers from about a dozen countries next week ahead of the U.N. General Assembly meeting. The event will involve officials from the world’s largest economies for an informal discussion on how they can “move forward productively” on international climate change negotiations.

Load More