In­te­rior Dept. to de­lay fed­eral rules un­til Jan. 2019

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - JOUR­NAL STAFF AND WIRE

WASH­ING­TON — The In­te­rior Depart­ment is de­lay­ing an Obama-era reg­u­la­tion aimed at re­strict­ing harm­ful methane emis­sions from oil and gas pro­duc­tion on fed­eral lands.

A rule to be pub­lished to­day de­lays the methane reg­u­la­tion un­til Jan­uary 2019, call­ing the pre­vi­ous rule overly bur­den­some to in­dus­try. Of­fi­cials say the de­lay will al­low the fed­eral Bureau of Land Man­age­ment time to re­view the ear­lier rule while avoid­ing com­pli­ance costs on in­dus­try that may turn out to be un­nec­es­sary.

The ac­tion marks at least the third time the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has moved to de­lay or set aside the Obama-era rule, which was im­posed last year. The rule forces en­ergy com­pa­nies to cap­ture methane that’s burned off at drilling sites be­cause it pol­lutes the en­vi­ron­ment.

A fed­eral judge threw out an ear­lier bid to de­lay the rule.

The is­sue has gen­er­ated sharp re­ac­tions in New Mex­ico, which is par­tic­u­larly af­fected by methane emis­sions.

The San Juan Basin in the Four Cor­ners area is re­spon­si­ble for 14.5 per­cent of to­tal U.S. methane emis­sions, ac­cord­ing to data from the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s Green­house Gas Re­port­ing Pro­gram. In fact, a 2014 NASA satel­lite im­age showed a methane “hot spot” the size of Delaware hov­er­ing over the Four Cor­ners.

ICF In­ter­na­tional, an in­de­pen­dent con­sult­ing firm, es­ti­mates New Mex­ico loses about $100 mil­lion worth of gas ex­tracted an­nu­ally on fed­eral and tribal lands in the state.

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups sup­port the rule for its po­ten­tial to im­prove air qual­ity, re­duce im­pact on cli­mate change and in­crease fed­eral and state roy­al­ties by cap­tur­ing more gas from op­er­a­tions.

The In­te­rior Depart­ment’s

ac­tion drew strong re­ac­tions.

“Why would Sec­re­tary Zinke and Pres­i­dent Trump roll back good-neigh­bor rules that stop oil and gas waste and pol­lu­tion on pub­lic lands?” said Sierra Club Rio Grande Chap­ter Direc­tor Cam­milla Fiebel­man. “In New Mex­ico, we suf­fer from $27 mil­lion a year in lost rev­enues and roy­al­ties for the state be­cause of in­dus­try care­less­ness.”

Tweeti Blancett, owner of Blancett Ranches and Step Back Inn in Aztec, said some com­pa­nies will do the right thing, but most won’t with­out clear and strong stan­dards that cut waste. “This de­lay stinks like a fresh pile of ma­nure,” Blancett said.

But in­dus­try or­ga­ni­za­tions say op­er­a­tors have al­ready re­duced methane emis­sions sub­stan­tially on their own — by 16.3 per­cent be­tween 1990 and 2015. In New Mex­ico, emis­sions dropped 47 per­cent in that pe­riod in the San Juan Basin, ac­cord­ing to the New Mex­ico Oil and Gas As­so­ci­a­tion.

“Re­spon­si­bly pro­duc­ing oil and nat­u­ral gas is a top pri­or­ity for oil op­er­a­tors in New Mex­ico,” as­so­ci­a­tion Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Ryan Flynn said in a state­ment. “... Oil and nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­ers are lead­ing the way in de­vel­op­ing and im­ple­ment­ing in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies to re­duce the foot­print of op­er­a­tions and in­crease gas cap­ture.”


Methane is “flared” at a Loco Hills oil and gas field be­tween Hobbs and Arte­sia. New rules on re­strict­ing methane emis­sions on fed­eral lands will sup­plant tougher Obama-era reg­u­la­tions.

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