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Another Environmental Regulation Rollback Finalized by Trump Administration

A one-year suspension of an Obama-era rule to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas drilling on Federal and Indian lands will increase global warming and reduce federal revenue. Trump took action after Congress failed to repeal the rule.
December 16, 2017, 7am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Methane, the primary component of natural gas, "is estimated to have a Global Warming Potential of 28–36 over 100 years," according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. By contrast, carbon dioxide has a GWP of 1.

"The [Bureau of Land Management] rule’s intent was to reduce wasted natural gas from 'venting, flaring, and leaks during oil and natural gas production' through drilling on federally leased property and on Indian land," writes Darryl Fears, environmental reporter for The Washington Post, on December 7.

It began to take effect in January, with provisions phased in since then. The rule was to be fully enforced by next Jan. 17.

"After Congress narrowly voted against repealing the BLM rule [last May], Interior [Department] decided to take action itself," adds Dino Grandoni in a Washington Post energy analysis on Dec. 7.

"According to federal estimates, the rule would prevent roughly 180,000 tons a year of methane from escaping into the atmosphere and would boost federal revenue between $3 million and $13 million a year because firms only pay royalties on the oil and gas they capture and contain," reported The Washington Post via Planetizen on May 12 after the U.S. Senate vote.

On Dec. 8, the Federal Register announced that the "Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is promulgating a final rule (2017 final delay rule) to temporarily suspend or delay certain requirements contained in the rule published in the Federal Register on November 18, 2016, entitled, “Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation” (2016 final rule) until January 17, 2019."

The rule's suspension is being litigated by Earthjustice in a lawsuit [pdf] against Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on behalf of many environmental and natural resource organizations.

Natural gas and oil industry steps in to monitor itself

In the absence of Federal regulations on methane leaks on Federal and Indian lands, the American Petroleum Institute has launched their own voluntary initiative.

"Focused initially on reducing methane and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, the Environmental Partnership includes 26 natural gas and oil producers, who produce a significant portion of American energy resources," states their Dec. 5 news release. "Participating companies will begin implementing the voluntary program starting January 1, 2018."

The Environmental Partnership is a historic agreement bringing together American natural gas and oil companies of all sizes to take action, learn and collaborate in an effort to further improve our environmental performance.

But the industry's initiative was about as well-received by The Wilderness Society as the rule's suspension, writes Fears.

 “It is inexcusable that the BLM is suspending this rule without putting a new rule in place, because it means that the federal government has decided to leave oversight of methane waste and pollution to the states for the indefinite future,” said Chase Huntley, a program director for energy and climate at the Wilderness Society.

Huntley was also suspicious of the industry’s attempt to regulate itself. “It’s somewhat amazing that the industry hasn’t already put forward its own standard,” he said.

Hat tip to Loren Spiekerman.
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Published on Thursday, December 7, 2017 in The Washington Post
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