BLM moves to delay methane waste rule

Rule's requirements could be 'rescinded or significantly revised in near future

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
Harpole Construction Inc., workers look over a natural gas pipeline Aug. 14 above Simon Canyon near Navajo Dam.
  • The BLM says it may have underestimated the costs to producers to implement the methane rule.
  • U.S. Sen. Tom Udall says the delay hurts taxpayers, children, the state economy and the environment.
  • Robert McEntyre of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association says he sees another solution to reducing methane emissions.

FARMINGTON — The Bureau of Land Management proposed to delay Obama administration-era natural gas waste regulations for 18 months today.

The delay would temporarily suspend the rule until Jan. 17, 2019, according to a document scheduled to be published in the Federal Register today.

The rule is meant to curb the venting, flaring and leaks of methane gas from oil and gas operation on public lands. It was finalized in November 2016, and full implementation of the rule would have come in January 2018.

It is under review by the BLM, which “wants to avoid imposing temporary or permanent compliance costs on operators for requirements that may be rescinded or significantly revised in the near future,” according to the document.

In an analysis of the rule’s impact, the BLM estimated the compliance costs to be between $114 million and $279 million annually, though the BLM is now concerned the impact report “may have underestimated costs and overestimated benefits,” the document said.

More:Mixed reactions to BLM, EPA methane waste rule actions

Several organizations have spoken out against the delay, including New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Sierra Club and the Western Environmental Law Center.

“The federal government and the oil and gas industry have known methane waste is a problem for at least seven years, and (have) spent over three years crafting the current rule,” said Thomas Singer of the Western Environmental Law Center in a statement. “It’s well past time for the federal government to stop sacrificing public health and taxpayer royalties for yet another gift to the oil and gas industry.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who has worked to save the rule, released a statement saying the delaying the rule “would hurt taxpayers, schoolchildren, New Mexico’s economy and our environment.”

“Prior to this rule, $100 million in taxpayer-owned natural gas was wasted each year from oil and gas wells operating on public lands in New Mexico,” Udall said in a press release. “The new standard also creates jobs in a new and growing field of methane capture technology. And the rule is helping to reduce dangerous pollution across the West and in New Mexico, where a methane cloud the size of Delaware is hanging over the Four Corners region.”  

However, voices from the industry support the delay. 

More:Zinke tells BLM to speed onshore drilling lease process

“It doesn’t really make sense to have companies comply with a rule that will be substantially changed in the near future,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of Western Energy Alliance, in a statement. “The rule finalized last year was an unlawful overreach as BLM attempted to assume the air quality regulatory authority that resides the states and the (Environmental Protection Agency).” 

Robert McEntyre, director of communications for New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said he sees another solution to reducing methane emissions from oil and gas production. 

Editorial:What’s happening with those permits, BLM?

“Reducing methane emissions is an important goal for oil and gas operators in New Mexico, but the right way to do it is not to impose costly rules that would essentially shut down production in numerous wells in the San Juan Basin (and other areas), but it’s to clear the backlog of permits and allow industry to build pipelines, to build gas-gathering lines that would allow us to take the gas that’s otherwise being vented or flared and take it to market,” McEntyre said. “We’re committed to reducing methane emissions. This venting and flaring (rule), this methane emission rule is not the right way to do it.”

Megan Petersen is the business and education reporter for the Farmington Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.