BLM methane plan highlights Colo. leadership
Reaction to the Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to enact more stringent regulations on methane emissions varied in tone, but both conservation and industry representatives in Colorado agreed Friday that the state has led the way when it comes to regulating methane emissions.
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Friday morning announced the BLM’s proposal, which was framed as an update to 30-year-old regulations. The regulations deal with natural gas lost due to leaks or during the venting and flaring processes for operations on public and American Indian lands.
“I think most people would agree that we should be using our nation’s natural gas to power our economy — not wasting it by venting and flaring it into the atmosphere,” Jewell said in a media release. “We need to modernize decades-old standards to reflect existing technologies so that we can cut down on harmful methane emissions and use this captured natural gas to generate power and provide a return to taxpayers, tribes and states for this public resource.”
The loss 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.
For the latter reason, Colorado conservation and community organizations welcomed the announcement Friday morning.
“We applaud the Bureau of Land Management for taking this major step to reduce oil- and gas-related air pollution and the waste of federally and tribally owned gas resources,” Karen Sjoberg, chair of Citizens for Clean Air in Mesa County, said in a media release. “We look forward to reviewing the proposed rule in detail, seeing how it compares to Colorado’s own regulations, and helping people to comment on the rules.”
While Sjoberg and others applauded the decision, industry representatives saw Friday’s announcement as an effort by the federal government to try and catch up to states that have led the way on regulating methane emissions.
Colorado has been ahead of the federal government when it comes to regulating the industry, and that includes regulations on hydrocarbon emissions, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association.
In 2014, a Colorado rule regulated hydrocarbon emissions from oil and gas operations largely by implementing standards for inspection of various facilities. It also requires the implementation of best management practices to minimize hydrocarbon emissions.
Colorado is seen as a leader in regulating methane emissions, said Patrick Von Bargen, executive director of the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions, an organization that aims to provide cost-effective solutions for reducing wasted methane.
Von Bargen, like everybody else interviewed for this story, did not have time to look through the nearly 300-page proposal. However, he said his first impression was that the proposal would not be as rigorous as the regulations in Colorado.
As an example, he cited a Colorado provision that requires some companies to inspect for leaks on a quarterly basis. Inspections would be semi-annually under the BLM proposal.
“We need to look at the fine print in the draft rule to flesh out the other differences, but I think the bottom line is that Colorado still leads the way,” Von Bargen said.
Friday’s announcement contained nothing particularly new or shocking, said Kirby Wynn, Garfield County oil and gas liaison.
“It does look to have a lot of similarities with the very stringent and recently enacted Colorado rules,” Wynn said.
Even while applauding the decision, conservationists cited Colorado as a leader on the issue.
“We applaud the BLM for following Colorado’s lead and taking action to cut methane waste and pollution on public lands,” Pete Maysmith, Conservation Colorado executive director, said in a press release. “For far too long, methane from oil and gas fracking and drilling on public lands has been allowed to escape into our atmosphere. This wasted gas costs taxpayers money, degrades our air quality and is harmful for our climate. We hope oil and gas companies will follow up on the excellent state process and embrace the BLM’s common-sense rule.”
While the proposal at first glance does not appear to go beyond what is being done in the state, the directive comes within the context of the larger picture of the last eight years under President Barack Obama, Ludlam said.
In a media release outlining the proposal Friday, the BLM stated the regulations are consistent with the Obama administration’s goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 40-45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.
Those policies, coupled with plummeting commodity prices and lengthy permit processes, have forced a costly hit economically, especially in western Colorado, according to Ludlam. Any new regulations or policies need to be viewed in a manner that balances environmental concerns with the role the industry plays in the lives of those in the region and beyond, he added.
The public will have 60 days to submit comments on the proposal once it is published in the Federal Register. The BLM also plans on hosting a series of public meetings on the proposed rule in February and March.
Wynn said Garfield County leaders had not discussed whether to comment on the proposal.
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