Commissioners oppose proposed BLM methane regulations | PostIndependent.com

Commissioners oppose proposed BLM methane regulations

Ryan Hoffman
rhoffman@citizentelegram.com

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. Wednesday morning, Wynn said he received confirmation from Mesa County that the requested changes would be made and submitted to the BLM before the comment period ends Friday, April 22.

Other counties have voiced support for the letter and could sing-on as well, according to Wynn.

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.

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, an industry group.

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.”