(WASHINGTON, D.C.) Western and national conservation groups today said the draft U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) methane gas waste rule represents an important first step, but must be strengthened to eliminate the unnecessary waste of public and Tribal resources and protect American taxpayers and communities that depend on public land revenue.
“We need standards that end the waste of taxpayer-owned energy resources that has become far too routine on federal and tribal lands across the U.S.,” said Jon Goldstein, senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs at Environmental Defense Fund. “While BLM’s proposal is an important first step, consistent with its long-standing authority to minimize waste, the Biden administration and Secretary Haaland must go further by setting clear requirements to eliminate waste caused by venting and flaring to safeguard public resources while protecting taxpayers and our energy security.”
The draft waste prevention rule released today assesses royalties on wasted gas and takes some additional steps to curtail waste from routine venting and flaring at oil and gas well sites on federal and tribal lands, but does not include clear waste prevention standards resembling those leading states like New Mexico and Colorado require. By helping ensure operators capture and sell or use associated gas, BLM would conserve domestic energy resources and ensure taxpayers benefit from the development of publicly-owned minerals. Minimizing waste would have the added benefit of lessening oil and gas production’s negative impact on the climate and protecting the health of frontline communities.
“We must stop methane waste and its negative consequences with rigorous standards to eliminate routine venting and flaring,” said America Fitzpatrick, senior program manager for energy and landscape conservation at National Parks Conservation Association. “Activities like flaring not only waste resources but also damage air quality, health, and visibility, as the light pollution wipes out dark night skies and views of our solar system that visitors seek out in many national parks. An added benefit of ending wasteful venting and flaring of gas on public lands in and around our parks is that it will protect people and these incredible places for our children and grandchildren.”
The BLM has a statutory mandate and longstanding authority to prevent the waste of public and Tribal resources. The Mineral Leasing Act directs BLM to require that operators on federal and tribal lands “use all reasonable precautions to prevent waste of oil or gas” (30 U.S.C § 225). The Bureau has proposed what is primarily a royalty-based approach to discourage wasted gas, though many oil and gas companies operating on federal and Tribal lands have simply accepted royalty payments as part of the cost of doing business. The Bureau could draw on waste prevention protections similar to those in state rules in New Mexico and Colorado to strengthen its primarily royalty-based approach, further reduce wasteful venting and flaring, and better protect communities.
“Now is the time to eliminate harmful methane waste from oil and gas development on our public lands,” said Ben Tettlebaum, director & senior staff attorney at The Wilderness Society. "BLM must go further by eliminating waste from routine venting and flaring, which at the same time benefits our climate and communities’ health.”
According to the Biden administration, oil and gas operators vented or flared approximately 150 billion cubic feet of methane in 2019 — or about $400 million of natural gas on federal and Tribal lands. That is enough natural gas to meet the needs of 2.1 million households, which is nearly as many households as the states of New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming have combined.
That $400 million of wasted gas also means tens of millions of dollars in lost royalty revenue, much of which would have important conservation benefits to some western states that seek to offset or mitigate the impacts of energy development as well as potential federal funding for much-needed water conservation projects and projects to reduce water consumption.
“It is difficult to think of another situation in which geopolitical, economic, environmental, and human health interests so effortlessly harmonize as they do in the case of methane waste,” said Melissa Hornbein, senior attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “The Bureau of Land Management has a unique opportunity with this rule to simultaneously promote U.S. energy independence, protect taxpayer-owned resources, while also addressing the climate crisis and protecting human health. To do so, however, the Bureau must look beyond royalties and reinforce the agency’s clear authority — as outlined in the rule — to take specific and affirmative steps to eliminate the waste of gas caused by venting and flaring. We are encouraged by the preliminary additional safeguards articulated by the rule but those provisions must clearly articulate the Bureau’s duty, in addition to its authority, to tackle waste from venting and flaring.”
The U.S. must go further to ensure we are a global leader in reducing methane pollution. Fortunately, the BLM has the authority and obligation to implement strong rules that end wasteful routine venting and flaring.
Starting with June’s Major Economies Forum — one of the last major climate gatherings before COP 27 in Egypt — signatories to the Global Methane Pledge introduced a new goal to eliminate routine flaring as soon as possible, and by 2030 at the latest.
Then in July, the U.S. and Mexico announced a commitment to cooperate and help Mexico develop a plan to eliminate routine flaring in alignment with the Global Methane Pledge.
Fast action to eliminate routine flaring is critical for reducing the needless waste of energy resources as the world faces an energy crisis spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — in addition to the important co-benefits of protecting our air and safeguarding our climate.
President Biden himself remarked that "climate security and energy security go hand in hand," and added that by stopping the “flaring of the super potent greenhouse gas and capturing this resource for countries that need it, we're addressing two problems at once."
In fact, EDF analysis has shown that comprehensive efforts to curb natural gas waste by eliminating routine flaring in the U.S. alone could provide over half of the gas the Biden administration has committed to Europe.
Analysis from Rystad Energy has found that solutions for operators to address flaring and capture this otherwise wasted gas are both readily available and cost-effective, and in many cases even profitable.
An array of oil and gas operators have committed to end routine flaring. To name a few: ExxonMobil has committed to end routine flaring across its assets in the Permian Basin by 2022, BP has committed to end routine flaring by 2025 in its U.S. onshore operations, while many more have signed on to the World Bank’s goal of ending routine flaring worldwide by 2030.
Robin Cooley, Deputy Managing Attorney, Rocky Mountain Office of Earthjustice
“It is the very definition of ‘waste’ to allow oil and gas companies to needlessly burn our federal and tribal gas in the pursuit of maximum profits. Yet the federal government’s long overdue proposal fails to take the steps necessary to prevent such waste. This failure comes at the expense of communities who suffer the harmful noise, air, and light pollution associated with rampant flaring.”
Barbara Vasquez, Oil and Gas Team Chair, Western Organization of Resource Councils
“Wasteful and routine venting and flaring of methane on public and Tribal lands is simply irresponsible governance. It’s abundantly clear that charging royalties on wasted gas and more planning wont’ be enough.”
Mark Magana, Founding President and CEO, GreenLatinos
“I am encouraged by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) commitment to move forward with improvements on this important rule. Regulating methane waste from the fossil fuel industry is not only important for the climate but will also provide major economic and health co-benefits to the Latino/a/e community. I urge BLM to eliminate the harmful practice of routine venting and flaring which creates waste and can contribute to localized air pollution in communities living near active oil and gas operations. This rule provides important co-benefits like protecting the health and wellbeing of Latino/a/xs at risk and in the proximity to active oil and gas operations. We are ready for BLM to make the regulatory strides needed to ensure our communities are safe and healthy.”
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