New BLM Rule To Curb Natural Gas Waste

Important new guidelines were released on November 15th, 2016, by the BLM to keep drilling sites efficient and in good repair. Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel we have--but gas that leaks from oil and gas wells forms ozone that harms people, farms, and wildlife. Leaked gas is also wasted, valuable product that could be sold and used. The new rule has bi-partisan support, uses solid science, and came from a long stakeholder process. The new rule also helps bring drilling practices up to date and makes them uniform across the Uinta Basin region. 

Breathe Utah is optimistic that the BLM's new rule will help Utahns have cleaner air and better health. At the same time, this rule will help prevent waste of our natural resources and create jobs in the mitigation industry. We are grateful that Secretary Sally Jewell and the BLM followed the science, took the input of concerned citizens from Utah and across the West, and produced this important natural gas waste rule. 

Others are just as gratified:

Mary McGann, Commissioner, Grand County: "I commend Secretary Jewell and the BLM for adopting a strong natural gas waste rule today. It's a critical step for ensuring a fair return to taxpayers, reducing flaring near your national parks that harm our night skies, and cleaning up our air. This rule will help ensure that millions of our tax dollars aren't wasted, and that energy producing counties have more money for roads and bridges, conservation, and mitigation."

Tom Elder, retired high school teacher, Vernal, Utah: "Since the State of Utah is about to designate the Uintah Basin for ozone nonattainment, this natural gas waste rule is welcome and timely news. We will stop losing millions of royalty dollars that could be invested in Eastern Utah, and at the same time cut the ozone-forming pollutants. If the Uintah Basin's economy is to thrive and diversify, we have to clean up our air."

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Five Facts You Need To Know About Methane Waste:

1. Cutting Methane Waste Will Also Clean Up Utah’s Air

The release of methane produces harmful pollutants that have significant public health consequences, including toxic chemicals linked to cancer like benzene, and other smog-forming pollutants that can trigger asthma. Rural communities face ozone challenges on par with major cities such as Los Angeles, in areas where oil and gas contribute to pollution. In fact, one study found that 90 percent of ozone pollution in the Uintah Basin of Eastern Utah was from oil and gas operations.

2. A Bipartisan Majority of Western Votes Favor a Strong Methane Waste Rule

In January 2016, Colorado College released a bipartisan poll by Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic polling firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates that found 80 percent of westerners support the Obama administration’s effort to curb methane waste on public lands. At public hearings earlier this year, supporters of BLM’s efforts outnumbered opponents by 3-to-1 margins. And in July 2016, a bipartisan group of legislators opposed provisions to defund implementation of the BLM natural gas waste rule.

A broad and diverse array of western stakeholders support the action by the BLM to cut natural gas waste, including: upwards of 100 local officials both Republicans and Democrats, Latino organizations, landowners and agricultural interests, veterans, taxpayer groups, business groups, sportsmen, public health advocates, tribal, Vet Voice Foundation, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Partnership for Responsible Business, American Lung Association, sportsmen organizations, more than 60 public health professionals across five states, tribal grassroots groups such as Dine CARE and Fort Berthold POWER, tribal officials such as Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Mark Fox and NM State Senator Benny Shendo, among many others.

3. A Delaware-sized cloud of methane floats above the Four Corners, and oil and gas development is largely responsible.

In August of this year, NASA confirmed that oil and gas industry was primarily to blame for the 2,500 square mile cloud of methane first discovered hovering over the Four Corners region in 2014. In fact, the study found that just 10 percent of leaks were responsible for half of all observed emissions.

4. Entrepreneurs are ready to help tackle the problem of methane waste

Companies throughout the West are using innovative technology to deal with the problem of methane waste. The Center for Methane Emissions Solutions works with and represents companies that develop and manufacture cutting edge technologies, install commercial technologies, and aid inspectors on the job to significantly cut methane waste on a cost-effective basis across the oil and gas supply chain. Datu Research has identified 76 companies nationwide that manufacture, sell, and support at 500 different U.S. locations across 46 states. More than half of the companies in this industry are small businesses.

In a recent survey, 7 out of 10 Colorado operators said benefits of regularly checking equipment for leaks outweigh costs. And since Colorado’s rules went into place, regulators report a 75% reduction in equipment leaks in the state’s most heavily developed oil and gas field.

5. State and local governments would lose tens of millions of dollars each year without this rule.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas. For far too long, oil and gas companies have been able to leak, vent, and flare America’s methane wasting upwards of $330 million worth of natural gas each year. That number translates into enough gas to meet the home heating needs of a city the size of Chicago for an entire year.

Because the BLM does not assess royalties on wasted natural gas, taxpayers lose out. In Utah, it is estimated that taxpayers have lost out on over $31 million in royalties since 2009.