By Ryan Alexander and Patrick Von Bargen
If not for a one-year delay put in place by the current administration, the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Methane and Waste Prevention rule would have gone into effect last week. The rule should have provided greater protections for taxpayers and reduced waste by increasing the capture and sale of natural gas from public lands. Instead, BLM is allowing industry to continue wasteful practices that are within its power to prevent - at taxpayers' expense.
After years of rulemaking and collaboration with stakeholder and industry groups, the BLM finalized its waste prevention rule at the end of 2016 in order to curb methane waste and return revenues to local communities and all federal taxpayers by requiring oil and gas companies to reduce the amount of wasted gas. Despite overwhelming support for reducing natural gas waste across the country, the rule was promptly threatened in Congress by a Congressional Review Act (CRA) challenge. After months of uncertainty, a CRA resolution to repeal the rule was brought up for a vote on the Senate floor in May 2017, and it was struck down. Just one month later, the rule faced another challenge - this time by the Trump administration. Even though thousands of Americans spoke out during a public comment period in support of common sense methane waste rules, and millions of dollars continue to be lost on vented, leaked, and flared natural gas each year, the BLM has now suspended the 2016 rule.
Without the BLM waste rule, the problem of lost gas on federal lands will continue to worsen. 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 six million households for a year.
Much of this gas could be captured, and the BLM rule should have required oil and gas companies to regularly check for and repair leaking equipment using readily available and cost-effective technologies. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that around 40 percent of natural gas being vented and flared from onshore federal leases could have been economically captured with the use of available control technologies. This is possible due to more than 100 companies that produce and service methane mitigation technologies headquartered in the United States, with more than 500 different facilities in 46 states.
We also know that the BLM methane waste rule would have been achievable by the oil and gas industry. The rule is based in large part on the stricter comprehensive methane rule adopted by Colorado nearly four 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.
We cannot afford to turn back the clock on methane waste; we must continue fighting for common sense federal rules that benefit both industry and taxpayers. Without the BLM methane rule, oil and gas companies' wastefulness will continue without consequence, and millions of dollars of taxpayer-owned natural gas will go up in flames.
Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. Patrick Von Bargen is executive director of the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions.