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.
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