Interior Department changes Obama-era methane rule
September 25, 2018
The U.S. Department of Interior announced Sept. 18 it was rolling back Obama era rules on methane gas to help promote oil and gas development on public lands. President Donald Trump issued an executive order to reduce regulations in March 2017, and the recent decision is part of that order.
The final changes to the 2016 Waste Prevention Rule, also known as the Venting and Flaring Rule, reduces regulations on the oil and gas energy sector.
Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a Rifle native, said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is dedicated to fulfilling Trump’s goal of rolling back regulations to help the country’s energy sector.
"The Trump administration is committed to innovative regulatory improvement and environmental stewardship," Bernhardt said.
The rules were created to cut methane waste from oil and gas operations on public lands by requiring oil and gas producers to repair leaking infrastructures and create gas capture plans before starting development.
In the published version of Waste Prevention Rule, requirements listed in the Obama era rules requiring waste minimization plans from operators, well drilling and completion requirements, and other federal rules for storage and infrastructure were removed. These requirements would have prevented approximately 180,000 tons of methane gas from entering the atmosphere each year and save $188 million annually by allowing more natural gas to be sold and preventing gas and other pollutants from getting into the air.
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The U.S. is ranked second in the world in the amount of methane and greenhouse gases produced, according to a 2016 United Nations study. China is ranked first by a significant margin. The Environmental Protection Agency’s latest report, in 2014, said 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases are produced by heat and electricity production. However, the U.S. saw a steady decline in greenhouse gas output, which includes methane, beginning in 2008.
When asked how much methane gas the new rules would prevent or release, Zinke's Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Kate MacGregor said they do not have those numbers.
MacGregor said there needs to be “smart” regulations that harness domestic energy production, but do so responsibly. The Bureau of Land Management determined there are redundant and “cumbersome” requirements and decided to revise the rules
In a news release from the Interior Department, The BLM reviewed the 2016 rule and found it had considerable overlap into existing state, tribal and federal regulations. Additionally, the agency determined that the previous administration underestimated the cost of the 2016 rule.
"Sadly, the flawed 2016 rule was a radical assertion of legal authority that stood in stark contrast to the longstanding understanding of Interior's own lawyers," said Bernhardt.
Bernhardt added Colorado already has rules limiting methane venting and flaring, and the state is a leader in adopting those rules.
However, not all Coloradans share Bernhardt’s optimism on the ruling.
"I'm disappointed to learn that BLM did not listen to the people of our state and went ahead with this rollback, even after the Senate rejected it," U.S. Senator Michael Bennet said. "Tuesday's decision only has downsides for the people of Colorado. It will lead to more pollution, waste more natural gas, and decrease revenue for taxpayers. Worst of all, it will put the health of our communities at risk."
Conservation Colorado deputy director Jessica Goad said 74 percent of Coloradans supports rules requiring oil and gas producers to prevent methane waste on public lands. In May, 600,000 public comments were submitted, with 99 percent of the responses supporting the rules.
Moffat County Natural Resources director Jeff Comstock said Colorado is stringent when it comes to methane rules in the country, adding that the Interior Department rollback regulations is redundant and repetitive and won’t have much impact in Moffat County’s oil and gas development.