Nov. 29–While Colorado’s first-in-the-nation regulations of methane emissions from oil and gas sites are considered a gold standard, a new report by an environmental group says federal regulations are still necessary.
The report released Tuesday by The Wilderness Society and Taxpayers for Common Sense, says Colorado has been a leader in reining in methane pollution, a potent greenhouse gas, while some energy-producing states in the West have done little. That’s why it was a mistake for the Trump administration to repeal a 2016 federal rule that clamped down on methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public lands, said Jim Ramey, Colorado state director at The Wilderness Society.
“The air doesn’t stop when it gets to the Colorado-Utah state line or the New Mexico-Colorado state line,” Ramey said. “On the Western Slope, people are living with the impacts of poor state regulations in Utah, New Mexico and elsewhere.”
In September, the Trump administration replaced methane regulations approved in 2016 by the Obama administration. The action followed lawsuits by the oil and gas industry, a failed attempt by Congress to abolish the rule and the Trump administration’s attack on the regulations as too burdensome for companies.
The repeal of the Obama-era rule essentially returns the country to federal regulations that are more than 30 years old, leaving it up to individual states whether to adopt tougher standards, Ramey said. The result is a patchwork of rules across the West, with many states failing to address the problems of burning off methane gas at wells and preventing methane leaks from oil and gas equipment, he added.
The 2016 rule was aimed at stemming methane pollution, which dissipates in the atmosphere much faster than carbon dioxide but is at least 25 times more efficient at trapping radiation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Methane and Waste Prevention Rule applied to new and existing oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands and was projected to cut methane emissions by as much as 35 percent.
The rule was also intended to recover millions of dollars being lost when excess methane is flared, or burned off or lost through leaks, rather than captured and sold. A 2010 Government Accountability Office report said states, tribes and taxpayers lose as much as $23 million annually when methane, a primary component of natural gas and byproduct of drilling, is wasted.
The 2016 regulations, which were being phased in, required oil and gas producers to cut flaring in half at wells, periodically inspect for leaks and replace outdated equipment that vents large quantities of gas into the air. Operators also had to limit venting from storage tanks and try to limit gas losses when removing liquids from wells.
The rule applying to lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management was modeled after the 2014 Colorado law that regulates methane emissions from oil and gas sites. Separate methane regulations administered by the EPA on private lands were also modeled after Colorado’s law.
The Trump administration is taking public comments until Dec. 17 on its proposal to scale back the EPA methane regulations.
Colorado’s methane regulations apply to both state and private lands and remain in effect despite changes in the federal laws. Since the state program began, 73,733 methane leaks have been found and repaired. The number of leaks fell by more than half from 36,044 in 2015 to 17,254 in 2017.
“At a time when the nation faces historic deficits, our country needs actions that will reduce methane waste, and ensure state and federal taxpayers are compensated for the resources we own,” Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said in a statement.
The oil and gas industry disputed the figures on loss of royalty revenue and argued the methane rule for public lands were unnecessary duplications of state and federal laws. Companies challenged the legality of the methane rule for public lands and said it would cost far more to comply with the law than the Obama administration said it would.
“This is just another repackaging of the flawed analysis that these groups have been using for years on the supposed value of the gas lost, which we have debunked multiple times,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, a trade and advocacy organization, said in a statement.
The replacement for the Obama administration’s rule “will reduce waste, and industry will continue its four-decade-long trend of innovating and further reducing emissions,” Sgamma added.
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