Mixed reactions to BLM, EPA methane waste rule actions

John R. Moses
Natural gas flares from a production site on Jan. 8 off U.S. Highway 550 near Lybrook.

Some industry leaders were happy and some citizen watchdogs were not when two parts of the federal government this month decided to put the brakes on methane and natural gas waste rules.

The U.S. Senate in a narrow vote last month blocked a repeal of Obama Administration-era rules that put restrictions on methane drilling operations taking place on public lands, but that didn't settle the issue.

The Environmental Protection agency placed a two-year pause on its oil and gas methane pollution rule in mid June as the agency seeks comments while it amends the rule.

More:BLM outlines drilling permit process on federal lands

A Federal Register note filed by the EPA states, “This action delays compliance for fugitive requirements from approximately September 2017 until September 2019."
Just days after the EPA’s move, the Bureau of Land Management indefinitely postponed key elements of its waste reduction rule.

“For us, we just follow the rules as they give them to us,” Farmington BLM spokesman Zach Stone said of the decision.

No formal BLM press release was found online by press time. 

A WPX site is pictured, Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, in Lybrook.

That didn’t stop many from commenting.

“By delaying the implementation of these rules, the EPA and BLM have made it clear to all of us in the Four Corners that the energy industry is more important than the health of our children, our environment, and our wallets,” San Juan Citizens Alliance Executive Director Mark Pearson said in a press release. “San Juan Citizens Alliance will continue to engage and involve the public to protect our region against this administration’s indefensible rollbacks.”

The alliance noted that methane, “the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas released alongside volatile organic compounds extremely dangerous for human health. In their announcement, the EPA even acknowledged that 'the environmental health or safety risk addressed by this action may have a disproportionate effect on children.'” 

More:BLM, BIA hold final scoping meeting in Shiprock

An industry organization weighed in on the other side of that rhetorical fence.
“Western Energy Alliance thanks Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt for …notices delaying compliance dates for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and EPA methane rules,” the Denver-based group representing 300 companies stated in a press release June 14. “Both rules represent vast overreach by the prior administration and are being reconsidered by the agencies. Western Energy Alliance has challenged both rules in court.”

An oil and gas production site is pictured, Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, in Lybrook. New Mexico gained one production facility in mid-August.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association is on record in draft comments on its website as opposing the BLM rule as it "will not achieve the BLM’s intended goal to obtain lower methane emissions and cleaner air. In fact, the environmental improvements of this rule are negligible while negative economic impacts on the industry are drastic. Methane emissions are decreasing under existing regulations and voluntary industry action that does not put oil and gas production, reserves, the communities and state at risk."

The organization also stated the rule as written "will cause unnecessary and severe economic harm to our state, our communities, and real lives."

"Over the past 25 years, from 1990 to 2015, as oil and gas production has increased methane gas emissions have declined," NMOGA spokesman Robert McIntyre said on June 15. He said the group hopes to move forward with common sense and science-based rules.

A ConocoPhillips oil and gas well in Aztec is pictured on June 30, 2016.

One New Mexico rancher who lives near Gobernador in the San Juan Basin is firmly against any rule postponement.

Don Schreiber said that his Devils Spring Ranch isn’t just operating under the methane cloud, but “I think we’re ground zero. It’s kind of hard to substantiate that, because the cloud is irregularly shaped.”

“The BLM's suspension of the key parts of their own methane waste rule allows industry to again cheat U.S. taxpayers of the revenue from over 110 billion cubic feet of gas each year,” Schreiber said in a widely distributed statement he reaffirmed to The Daily Times on June 15. “In this very tight economy, that money is crucial. The idea that BLM would let the resource, and the money, go to waste is indefensible.” 
La Plata County, Colo., Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, of Durango, who also serves as executive director of the Western Leaders Network, released a statement condemning the rule change.

“It’s time for Washington to represent westerners instead of DC oil and gas lobbyists, Lachelt stated. “... The Trump administration has decided to do (a) favor for the oil and gas lobby and put critical EPA and BLM rules on hold that protect taxpayers and the air our children breathe.

“My constituents live under a methane cloud the size of Delaware in the Four Corners region,” she continued. “This administration should stop opposing common-sense rules and start holding industry accountable for the waste and pollution they create.”