November 16, 2016

BLM finalizes rule to limit methane emissions

Margaret Wright

Oil pump in southeast New Mexico.

The United States Bureau of Land Management announced this week a final rule aimed at limiting methane flaring at oil and gas wells.

The rule, which requires oil and gas producers to limit the amount of methane released into the atmosphere, is set to be enforced gradually. In a press release, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said the rule is also an effort to update regulations to mirror available technology.

“Not only will we save more natural gas to power our nation, but we will modernize decades-old standards to keep pace with industry and to ensure a fair return to the American taxpayers for use of a valuable resource that belongs to all of us,” Jewell said.

New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has long opposed the BLM rule, citing the difficulty of oil and gas companies getting access to federal land in order to capture the excess methane.

A spokeswoman for Dunn declined to comment on the final rule, saying the land office was still reviewing the “the 330 page rule that was finalized yesterday to see how it will be implemented.”

In April, Dunn challenged the proposed rule and denounced television ads advocating for it.

“In reality, BLM itself has caused a significant amount of venting and flaring on federal and tribal lands because of delays in approving permits and rights-of-way for gas gathering lines,” Dunn said in an April statement.

Dunn went on to call the ads “all hat and no cattle.”

BLM spokeswoman Kimberly A. Brubeck said the new rule will not likely cost oil companies a considerable amount of money and new equipment may end up saving companies money in the long run.

“The BLM believes that the rule will not significantly increase costs to industry,” Brubeck wrote in an email to NM Political Report. “On average, the estimated costs will reduce the profit margin for a small business oil and gas operator by less than two-tenths of 1 percent.”

Dunn recently implemented his own rule that allows oil and gas companies to temporarily shut-in wells that are not economically viable for production. Earlier this month, the director of the Western Environmental Law Center said the new flaring rule could actually help companies capitalize on gas that would otherwise be burned off.

An incoming Donald Trump administration may put the new rule in jeopardy. President-elect Trump has reportedly considered a list of former governors and oil executives to fill the role of interior secretary, who would also oversee the BLM. Former Republican governors Sarah Palin and Jan Brewer and Lucas Oil Products President Forrest Lucas are some of the names reportedly on Trump’s shortlist.

Brubeck said the BLM’s job is to carry out “its mission of responsible stewardship of public lands, water, and wildlife,” regardless of who is president.

“With respect to this rule specifically, it has been under development for several years, has benefited from the input of stakeholders, tribes, and the public, and was initially requested by the GAO, the OIG, and members of Congress,” Brubeck said. “We believe the next administration will recognize the benefits of reducing waste, boosting natural gas supplies, and obtaining fair returns for public resources, which are associated with this rule.”