GarCo commissioners oppose proposed BLM methane regulations |

GarCo commissioners oppose proposed BLM methane regulations

Ryan Hoffman

Garfield County is joining neighboring counties on the Western Slope in opposing the Bureau of Land Management’s draft rule aimed at reducing methane emissions from oil and gas facilities on federal land.

Minus several small exceptions, Garfield County commissioners Monday voiced agreement with the contents of a letter drafted by Mesa County commissioners that said the rules would force new costs and burdens on industry without providing any substantial benefits.

“While we support the goal of capturing greater quantities of associated gas and reducing waste gas, a ‘command-and-control’ approach, which is not only redundant with existing Environmental Protection Agency regulations, but also fails to acknowledge oil and gas industry successes, is not the most effective way to meet this goal,” the letter reads.

The BLM in January released the draft rule, which aims to reduce the amount of natural gas lost largely due to leaks or during the flaring process on federal land. As proposed, the rule would phase in limits on the amount of natural gas burned off during flaring and require operators to conduct biannual leak detection inspections.

Much of the criticism contained in the Mesa County letter echoed critiques previously levied by industry representatives, who said the rules neglected advances made voluntarily by industry.

The letter also includes the claim made by industry that the BLM lacks the statutory authority to create “an air quality regulatory compliance program.” That authority resides with the EPA, the letter states.

Garfield County commissioners did take issue with several sentences in the letter, including a claim that Colorado’s rules for leak detection and repairs “is a costly and inefficient way to reduce methane emissions.”

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he felt the assertion was “slamming” Colorado’s rules and questioned whether it was appropriate to include.

Garfield County oil and gas liaison Kirby Wynn said it was too early to reach a conclusion on the effectiveness of Colorado’s regulations.

Commissioners agreed to request the sentence be removed from the letter before signing on to it. In the event that Mesa County commissioners decline the request, Wynn said he would draft a letter minus the critique of Colorado’s regulations.

Both Montezuma and Moffat counties are signing on to the Mesa County letter, and Rio Blanco and Dolores counties are likely to endorse it as well, according to Wynn.

The BLM proposal is too open-ended, Commissioner John Martin said Monday.

The opposition from Western Slope counties comes a little less than two months after 26 elected officials from across Colorado — including municipal officials in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale — signed a letter supporting the proposed rule.

That letter made note of the general consensus from industry and environmentalist regarding Colorado’s leadership when it comes to leak detections and repairs.

However, that is where any agreement between the two opposing sides ends.

Industry groups such as the Western Energy Alliance — which focuses on federal legislative, regulatory, environmental, public lands and other policy issues — oppose the BLM’s proposal as redundant, too costly and beyond BLM’s jurisdiction.

While Colorado has taken a stronger stance than other states in regulating flaring and other activities, uniform standards are needed across the board, said Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a community organization that supports the BLM’s proposal.

“It’s just as important for our neighboring states to have those new BLM rules enacted because air does not know state boundaries,” she said.

The opposition from Garfield County commissioners is not surprising given their “pro oil and gas” position, Robinson added.

On the contrary, Garfield and other counties on the West Slope realize that added regulation will put them at a disadvantage once commodity prices start to rebound, said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at Western Energy Alliance.

While drilling has continued elsewhere in states that don’t have large swaths of public land, the Western Slope and other regions have yet to approach pre-2008 levels of activity, Sgamma said.

As for the impact of the opposition from Garfield and other counties, Sgamma believes the comments carry some heft.

“The BLM has an obligation to consider all substantial public comments and it has a duty to respond to localities … so that definitely carries a lot of weight.”

Those comments must be submitted quickly — the public comment period ends Friday. Wynn said he expects Mesa County to consider the requested change from Garfield County commissioners Tuesday.

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