Officials back proposed BLM methane regulations
Ryan Summerlin March 2, 2016
Elected officials in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale are among those from across Colorado who on Monday officially endorsed proposed regulations by the Bureau of Land Management aimed at reducing methane emissions from oil and gas facilities on federal land.
In total, 26 elected officials signed a letter to “express our support for a strong rule to protect taxpayers and our public resources from undue waste by ensuring that the flaring, venting and leakage of methane during oil and gas production is governed by common sense rules on federal public gas air quality rules in the nation.”
The BLM released its proposal to reduce the amount of natural gas lost on public and American Indian lands, largely due to leaks or during the flaring process, in late January. The rules, as proposed, would phase in limits on the amount of natural gas burned off during flaring and the rules would require operators to conduct biannual leak detection inspections, among other requirements.
Following the announcement in January, both industry officials and environmental advocates in Colorado noted the state already is a leader when it comes to regulating methane emissions. The letter from the elected officials repeated that assertion.
“Colorado has already shown leadership in this matter by issuing the strongest state-based oil and gas air quality rules in the nation,” the letter states. “These sensible rules were lauded by industry and environmentalists alike and can be an example that the BLM draws from nationally.”
Although Colorado is leading the way with regards to regulating hydrocarbon emissions from oil and gas operations, the officials stated the impacts from uncaptured methane do not stop at state lines.
“For Colorado, however, pollution from our neighboring states does not stop at the Colorado border, and the BLM must do more to protect taxpayers by addressing the lost royalties that would otherwise benefit Coloradans locally and nationally.”
Monday’s letter comes a day before the BLM hosts a public meeting in Lakewood on the matter.
The letter contains signatures from some local officials — including two Glenwood Springs city councilors, the entire Carbondale Town Council, the mayors of Aspen and Basalt, and commissioners from Eagle, Pitkin and Summit counties — but there was no sign of endorsement from Garfield County.
Kirby Wynn, Garfield County oil and gas liaison, said on Monday that he had not been directed to gather more information at this point. He was unaware of any intent at the county level to offer a position on the BLM’s proposal, but Wynn pointed out that the public comment period is open until April 8.
He said he intends to listen in remotely to Tuesday’s meeting in Lakewood, and he suspects the matter might come before the commissioners in the future.
“It is my understanding the county was not approached by anyone looking for signature on the letter that was mentioned in news articles in the last couple days,” Wynn added.
The gas lost during flaring or from leaks is regarded as net negative, because it is lost money for companies that would otherwise sell the gas, and because methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to the overall warming of the planet.
Since the implementation of Colorado’s regulations, referred to as Colorado regulation seven, the methane mitigation industry has grown substantially in Colorado, which is now third in terms of the number of methane mitigation companies, Patrick Von Bargen, executive director of the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions, said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.
Further, he said oil and gas producers are seeing a benefit by capturing revenue that otherwise would be lost.
“There’s a sense that everyone is seeing real benefits coming out of Colorado regulation seven,” Von Bargen said.
Grand Junction City Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein and La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, two elected officials who signed the letter and participated in Monday’s conference call, stated they had not heard from operators in their jurisdictions regarding the BLM’s proposal.
However, Lachelt noted that expenses tied to facility improvements required under the new rules would likely be a deductible business expense, a thought that Von Bargen confirmed.
The lack of push back to the Colorado regulations may mean that they are not as big of a burden on industry as some might assume, Von Bargen added.
Jon Goldstein, senior policy manager with the Environmental Defense Fund, said Colorado’s regulations, which are tougher than the BLM’s proposal, were created with a lot of work and support from some of Colorado’s biggest oil and gas producers.
Industry, though, does not share uniform support for the BLM’s proposal, which Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at Western Energy Alliance, said is redundant and an overreach beyond BLM’s jurisdiction.
Western Energy Alliance — an industry group focused on federal legislative, regulatory, environmental, public lands and other policy issues — opposes the proposal for those and other reasons.
While estimates project as much as $23 million in royalties is lost annually from wasted natural gas, the cost to industry could be $161 million, according to Sgamma.
“We continue to oppose a rule that will impose more costs than it will deliver in benefits, especially since industry has achieved significant methane reduction without federal regulation,” Sgamma said.
If the rules are eventually adopted as is, Sgamma added the end result will be less development on federal lands.
“It will have a significant impact on the West because it will continue to drive oil and gas development off federal lands,” she said. “This rule sounds good in theory but it is extremely convoluted … and it blatantly exceeds BLM’s jurisdiction.”
The BLM meeting in Lakewood is scheduled for 1-4 p.m. Tuesday at the Holiday Inn at 7390 W. Hampden. The public has until April 8 to submit comments on the proposal, which can be viewed at on.doi.gov/1UgvCvS.