Judge stays methane waste rule as regulation controversy continues

Judge: 'Ping-ponging regulatory regime' is wasteful, inefficient and futile

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
This undated handout image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan, shows that the Four Corners area, in red, is a major U.S. hot spot for methane emissions. The map shows how much emissions varied from average background concentrations from 2003-2009. Dark colors are lower than average; lighter colors are higher.
  • The Bureau of Land Management suspended the rule until 2019 so it can be reviewed and potentially revised.
  • Industry players continue self-regulation efforts.
  • Sierra Club's Rio Grande chapter is exploring legal options, director says.

FARMINGTON — A Wyoming judge has suspended the Bureau of Land Management’s Obama-era methane waste prevention rule in the latest move in the fight over emissions regulation.

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl ordered a stay on the methane rule on April 4, conflicting with an October 2017 order from a federal judge in California that upheld the rule.

The methane rule, which aims to curb methane emissions through venting, flaring and leaks during oil and gas production, was published by the BLM in November 2016 and was originally scheduled to be fully implemented in January 2018.

However, after presidential orders, the BLM suspended and delayed the rule’s implementation until 2019 so it could be reviewed and potentially revised. While environmental groups call for the rule to be reinstated, industry players say the rule is too expensive to enforce, especially as the BLM prepares major changes to the rule.

A flaring stack is pictured near Riverview Golf Course on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 in Kirtland.

Skavdahl agreed, saying that industry petitioners “will be irreparably harmed by full and immediate implementation of the 2016 Waste Prevention Rule, magnified by temporary implementation of significant provisions meant to be phased in over time that will be eliminated in as few as four months.”

Skavdahl also expressed frustration in the case and the rule’s controversy, saying it was “symbolic of the dysfunction of the current state of administrative law.”

“The waste, inefficiency and futility associated with a ping-ponging regulatory regime is self-evident and in no party’s interest,” Skavdahl said in the order.

Camilla Feibelman, director of the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter, said the group is disappointed in the court’s decision, calling the rule a “common-sense safeguard” in an April 4 press release. She said the Sierra Club is “exploring all our legal options.” 

Industry players, however, are continuing efforts to self-regulate as the fight over the methane rule continues.

On April 16, BP announced its goal to limit “methane emissions from its global upstream oil and gas operations that market natural gas to 0.2 percent,” according to the Environmental Defense Fund, which “provided critical guidance for operators and other stakeholders on setting and evaluating corporate targets.”

Paul Jefferiss, head of policy for BP, said industry bodies have come together to define shared methane principles that could lead to “an industry best practice guide,” according to an EDF blog.

“With the expertise of the industry, a stable and encouraging policy environment, and constructive challenge from EDF and others, we believe the methane challenge can be met,” Jefferiss said.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.