State AG joins in suit against methane rule delay

Industry spokesman warns of tough consequences for San Juan Basin if rule is applied

A Staff and Wire Report
Natural gas is flared Jan. 8 at a gas well near Lybrook.

The attorneys general of California and New Mexico sued the Trump administration Wednesday for delaying new rules to reduce methane leaks on federal lands, raising concerns from a New Mexico oil and gas industry association and cheers from a public policy group.

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal challenges California AG Xavier Becerra has filed against the administration on environmental actions. He and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas say the new rules will ensure cleaner air. Balderas declared a July 3 court ruling against the Trump administration “a win” for the state’s economy.

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The regulations require natural gas and oil producers to update equipment and take other actions aimed at stopping methane leaks. They also say companies must pay royalties on leaked gas.

Opposition from energy companies and several states spurred the U.S. Department of the Interior to delay pieces of the rule. The postponed pieces are not set to take effect until January 2018.

New Mexico Oil & Gas Association spokesman Robert McEntyre said the rule would lead to shut downs at low-producing wells and is “misguided, because at the end of the day the rule would cost New Mexico at least $100 million in revenue over three years,” according to a study by the New Mexico Tax Research Institute.

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McEntyre said the effect would be felt in the San Juan Basin especially, as “low-producing wells are more common in the San Juan Basin.”

The Center for American Progress said Wednesday the lawsuit indicates the state attorneys general believe “the agency’s delay in implementing the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule bilks the states out of tens of millions of dollars used to support educational programs.”

“The Trump Administration is trying to dodge legal requirements at the expense of public health and American taxpayers – and today they got called on it,” the center’s Public Lands Director Kate Kelly said via email. “The methane rule has already been upheld in court and upheld in Congress – now it’s time for the Administration to implement this commonsense safeguard.” 

The Washington, D.C.-based center bills itself online as “an independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action.”

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New Mexico’s Attorney General has a history with this issue, weighing in publicly on July 3, when a federal court told the Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt he overstepped his authority in postponing the rule.

“New Mexico schoolchildren deserve to be properly compensated for the oil and gas extracted from our state and they deserve to breathe clean air in the Land of Enchantment,” Balderas said in a press release on July 3. “The federal appeals court blocking President Trump’s roll back of the Methane Rule is a win for New Mexico families, businesses and our environment. “

Balderas said his office “will continue to fight to hold the Trump Administration accountable when they try to harm New Mexico children and families.” 

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Balderas intervened previously “to support the BLM’s 2016 rule reducing venting and flaring of methane from oil and gas production on federal lands, against challenges brought by industry and other states in federal court in Wyoming,” the release stated.

On New Mexico’s federal public lands, the value of vented and flared gas “not currently subject to royalty payments towards New Mexico public schools is an estimated $6.7 to $8.1 million per year,” the release states.

John R. Moses of the Daily Times and the Associated Press contributed to this report.