METHANE RULE ON HOLD
Interior Dept. to delay federal rules until Jan. 2019
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.