Debate flares over BLM methane regulation - Albuquerque Journal

Debate flares over BLM methane regulation

Local and national activists are raising a stink over federal efforts to re-write a new rule to control methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

The U.S. Department of the Interior ordered the Bureau of Land Management in February to overhaul the Obama-era rule, setting a 60-day period for public comment that ends on Monday. Federal officials say the rule, which would force producers to limit venting, flaring and leaking of methane for all operations on BLM lands, didn’t include adequate input from industry.

But environmentalists and many local politicians say the Obama rule-making process lasted three years and was far more open to public comment than the truncated process under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

In an April 12 letter, 86 local politicians from eight states asked Zinke and BLM directors to extend the comment period by 60 days and schedule public hearings. Forty-five New Mexico officials signed it, including the mayors of Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe.

“The agency appears to be fast-tracking this rollback without holding a single hearing in any western state where oil and gas development on public lands takes place,” the letter said.

New Mexico has a big stake in the issue. Two new reports suggest methane emissions may be much higher than previously thought.

Updated estimates released this month by the Western Regional Air Partnership, a third-party consortium that helps collate emissions data for state and federal regulators, show that in 2014, New Mexico’s industry-related emissions totaled 817,000 tons. That’s more than four times the 184,000 tons industry operators reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Jon Goldstein of the Environmental Defense Fund.

“That represents $150 million worth of leaked and vented natural gas every year in New Mexico, and that doesn’t include waste from flaring by operators,” Goldstein said. “With flaring, we estimate up to $240 million may be wasted annually.”

That would amount to at least $27 million in lost state revenue from taxes and royalties each year, Goldstein said.

Another study released April 4 by the Washington, D.C.-based Taxpayers for Common Sense says about $1 billion in natural gas escaped from industry operations nationwide from 2007-2016, half of it in New Mexico.

Industry representatives dispute those figures.

“EPA figures based on field-level data reporting show that methane emissions in the San Juan Basin dropped 46 percent over the six-year period from 2011-2016,” said New Mexico Oil and Gas Association spokesman Robert McEntyre. “In the Permian Basin, emissions decreased by 6 percent in the same period.”

Operators are working on their own initiative to cut leaking, venting and flaring without the need for new, costly regulations, McEntyre said.

“Operators want to do everything they can to reduce emissions,” he said. “That’s a shared goal across the industry.”

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