The US government would limit methane leaks from drilling on public land

WASHINGTON – The Interior Department on Monday proposed rules to limit methane leaks from oil and gas wells on public land, the Biden administration’s latest action to combat methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas that is a major contributor to global warming.

The proposal of the Bureau of Land Management of the Interior would Tighten limits on gas flaring on federal land and require energy companies to better detect methane leaks that contribute to Earth’s greenhouse gas pollution.

The actions follow one more comprehensive methane reduction plan announced by President Joe Biden earlier this month. The November 11 proposal that was announced when Biden was in attendance a world climate conference in Egypt, is targeting the oil and gas industry for its role in global warming, although the president has urged energy producers to drill more to drive down prices at the gas pump.

Oil and gas production is the nation’s largest industrial source of methane, the main component of natural gas, and a key goal of the Biden administration in addressing climate change.

The proposal, announced Monday, would prevent billions of cubic feet of natural gas from being wasted through venting, flaring and leaks, increasing efficiency while reducing pollution, administration officials said.

“This proposed rule will bring our regulations in line with technological advances the industry has made in the decades since the BLM rules were introduced, while providing taxpayers with a fair return,” Home Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

Venting and flaring activities from oil and gas production on public lands have increased significantly in recent decades. Between 2010 and 2020, total amounts of natural gas lost to venting and flaring on federal and tribal lands averaged about 44.2 billion cubic feet per year — enough to power about 675,000 homes, Interior said. The number represents a sharp increase from an annual average of 11 billion cubic feet lost to venting and flaring in the 1990s.

“No one likes wasting natural resources from our public lands,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. She called the draft rule a sensible, environmentally responsible solution to address the harm caused by wasted natural gas. The rule “puts the American taxpayer first and ensures producers pay reasonable royalties for natural gas flaring,” she said.

Interior previously announced a rule to limit methane emissions under former President Barack Obama. The plan was challenged in court and later watered down under former President Donald Trump. Competing court rulings blocked enforcement of Trump- and Obama-era rules, leading the agency to revert to rules developed more than 40 years ago.

Jon Goldstein, an oil and gas expert at the Environmental Defense Fund, said new standards are needed to “end the squandering of taxpayer-owned energy resources that has become far too routine in federal and tribal lands in the US.”

He called BLM’s proposal “an important first step in line with its longstanding authority on minimizing waste.”

The rule would cap flaring monthly and charge for flaring that exceeds those limits.

Some conservation groups have criticized the rule, saying it is not enough to eliminate gas flaring. “BLM needs to go further to implement strong measures to reduce methane emissions and avoid creating what amounts to little more than a pay-to-pollution scheme,” said Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center.

“The climate crisis requires immediate and decisive action to reduce emissions, especially when technologies are available today to minimize methane emissions at the well,” she said.

The Environmental Protection Agency rule announced in Egypt targets emissions from existing oil and gas wells across the country, including smaller wells that are now required to find and plug methane leaks.

The rule comes like Biden accused oil companies of “war profiteers” and raised the possibility of imposing a windfall tax on energy companies if they don’t boost domestic production.

In addition to the EPA rule, a broad one Climate and Health Act passed by Congress in August A fee is imposed on energy producers that exceed a certain methane emission level. The fee, which is set to rise to $1,500 per tonne of methane, is the first time the federal government has directly imposed a fee or tax on greenhouse gas emissions.

The law provides $1.5 billion in grants and other spending to improve monitoring and data collection of methane emissions with the goal of finding and repairing natural gas leaks.

The BLM will be taking comments on the proposed rule through early February, with a final rule expected next year.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. The US government would limit methane leaks from drilling on public land

Sarah Y. Kim

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