BLM announces final methane waste rule

The federal Bureau of Land Management announced its final methane waste rule on Wednesday. These new regulations clamp down on the practice of venting and flaring, which the agency says wastes valuable resources that are owned by the public or Native American tribes and could be put to beneficial use. The agency says the practice […]

BLM announces final methane waste rule

The federal Bureau of Land Management announced its final methane waste rule on Wednesday.

These new regulations clamp down on the practice of venting and flaring, which the agency says wastes valuable resources that are owned by the public or Native American tribes and could be put to beneficial use. The agency says the practice also deprives the federal government, states and tribes of substantial royalty revenue.

“Strong Interior Department methane waste rules are integral for the United States to protect taxpayers from wasted energy resources,” Jon Goldstein, senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs with the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. “Taking action to limit methane waste on public lands offers a win-win-win for taxpayers, producers and communities harmed by this waste and associated pollution.”

From 1999 through 2022, the volumes of gas vented or flared tended to mirror oil production.

The BLM says that could indicate that new exploration and development is outpacing the construction of infrastructure needed.

Inside Climate News reported this week that venting and flaring in the Permian Basin increases when the price of natural gas is low.

Venting and flaring also results in the emissions, including releasing methane into the atmosphere that contributes to climate change. 

Chemicals released during venting and flaring can also harm the health of nearby communities and even people living dozens of miles away.

“Eliminating waste from routine venting and flaring of associated gas conserves domestic energy resources, ensures taxpayers benefit from the development of publicly-owned minerals, lessens oil and gas production’s negative impact on the climate, and protects the health of frontline communities,” Tannis Fox, senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center, said in a statement Wednesday. “The health risks increase the closer people live, work, and go to school near oil and gas facilities—it’s crucial federal agencies move forward on strong implementation and enforcement of these new rules.”

The new rule replaces the agency’s current requirements for gas venting and flaring. Those requirements date back more than four decades. A previous attempt to update the requirements in 2016 was challenged in federal court and was never fully implemented.

In addition to seeking to limit or eliminate routine venting and flaring, the new regulations also look to reduce the amount of gas lost through leaking infrastructure.

The new rule requires oil and gas operators to submit either a waste minimization plan or a self-certification statement when they apply for a permit to drill. The self-certification statement would commit the operator to capture 100 percent of the gas from a well and would require the operator to pay royalties on any gas that was lost with the exception of gas lost during an emergency.

The Inflation Reduction Act that President Joe Biden signed into law in 2022 also requires operators to pay royalties even on gas that is lost through venting, flaring or negligent releases with a few exceptions. Those exceptions include venting or flaring gas for up to 48 hours if a situation arises that would otherwise pose a danger to human health, the environment or safety.

Prior to the IRA passage, courts disagreed on the BLM’s authority to regulate venting and flaring.

Not all venting and flaring can be prevented. 

In some instances, the pipelines that move gas from place to place can reach capacity so no more gas could be sent in. 

Because of this, the BLM’s rule establishes a volume limit that is based on oil production. That will allow operators to flare off a certain amount of excess gas without paying royalties on it if pipelines have reached capacity and there is not adequate infrastructure to move the gas.

The BLM estimates that it will cost the industry $19.3 million per year to implement the new rule and will result in $1.8 million of benefits annually to producers by increasing the amount of recovered gas that will be sold rather than vented or flared.

The agency also anticipates an increase of $51 million a year in royalty revenue.

Additionally, it states that the reduced greenhouse gas emissions will result in about $17.9 million of ancillary benefits to society each year.

New Mexico already has some of the strongest methane waste regulations in the country.

“Methane from oil and gas development on public lands harms communities, invaluable natural resources, and the climate,” Ben Tettlebaum, director and senior Staff Attorney at The Wilderness Society, said in a statement. “This rule takes steps to reduce methane waste from venting and flaring, which not only makes good economic sense, but also has conservation and climate benefits.”

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