WY Judge Pauses Standards to Cut Natural Gas Waste but Ignores Key Considerations

EDF Will File Immediate Appeal

April 4, 2018
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(April 4, 2018) A Wyoming judge today ruled that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) standards to reduce the waste of natural gas on public and tribal lands should be paused pending completion or withdrawal of a rulemaking by BLM to rescind the standards.


The ruling is not a decision on the merits of the Waste Prevention Rule. In fact, the Judge’s order expressly “acknowledges” that his decision ignored the key considerations properly weighed by courts in pausing the implementation of protections, such as the likely outcome on the merits and the full suite of public interests at stake:


“[T]he Court acknowledges that some courts have employed the four-factor preliminary injunction test in determining whether to grant relief under § 705….” (Decision, page 9 note 10)


“The Wyoming judge ‘acknowledges’ that his decision did not consider key legal factors such as the merits of the case. That is deeply problematic because the standards at stake are rooted in BLM’s duty to minimize waste, save extensive amounts of natural gas, reduce harmful pollution, and deliver economic benefits to people across the West,” said Peter Zalzal, Lead Attorney for Environmental Defense Fund, which is a party to the case. “We are preparing an immediate appeal because under our nation’s laws the merits, the governing case law, and the public interest matter.”


BLM’s Waste Prevention Standards require oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands to take common-sense measures to reduce preventable leaks of natural gas. Between 2009 and 2015, those companies wasted enough natural gas to supply more than 6.2 million homes for an entire year.

“Today’s ruling effectively punishes the responsible operators that have been complying with these reasonable standards while rewarding those in the oil and gas industry that are recklessly wasting a valuable public resource and squandering tax payers’ hard-earned money,” said Zalzal.

The waste of natural gas on public and tribal lands costs taxpayers millions of dollars. A recent report found the public is only getting royalty payments on 11 percent of that wasted gas. Preventing waste would mean more royalty money for Western communities and tribes – money that can be used for roads and schools.  


Natural gas that is wasted through leaks, venting or flaring also allows large amounts of unhealthy pollution into our air – including methane, which is a potent driver of climate change.


The Trump Administration’s efforts to suspend the Waste Prevention Standards have suffered setbacks in both the courts and Congress. Most recently, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in February preliminarily enjoined an attempt by BLM to suspend the standards.


Industry opponents have also launched a series of legal challenges to these needed protections.


The states of California and New Mexico are supporting the standards, along with a group of 15 national, regional, tribal and local public health and environmental groups – including EDF.


The standards are being challenged by the Attorneys General of Wyoming and Montana, North Dakota and Texas, as well as oil and gas industry groups the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) and Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA).


Despite broad public support for the Waste Prevention Standards, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed in February to rescind many of the protections of the Waste Prevention Standards. BLM will accept public comments on that proposal until April 23.


You can find more information – including all legal documents – on EDF’s website.

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