BLM Rule Ignores Market-Driven Methane Reductions

by Kathleen Sgamma, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs on January 20, 2016 - 7:41am

venting and flaring natural gasThe Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed new regulations that mandate stricter controls on natural gas venting and flaring. Western Energy Alliance supports the goal of capturing greater quantities of associated gas and reducing waste gas, but a command-and-control regulatory approach is not the most effective way to meet that goal.

Industry has achieved dramatic emission reductions without federal regulations. Through technological innovation driven by market forces, industry has greatly improved gas capture rates. Since 1990, oil and natural gas producers have decreased methane emissions by 21% even as natural gas production has climbed 47%–all without federal regulation. The new BLM regulation is simply another case of a federal government fix to something that’s already working well.

In fact, the oil and natural gas industry has delivered more greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions than any other industry or government climate change program, as dramatic increases in U.S. production have enabled switching to natural gas electricity generation. Through innovation and a constant striving for greater efficiency, industry has reduced methane leaks and improved gas capture rates, and is no longer the largest source of U.S. anthropogenic methane emissions.

EPA estimates that across the natural gas “value chain” from the wellhead to transmission to the end-user, the natural gas leakage rate is 1.1%. Several other independent studies confirm a low leakage rate, ranging from 1.1% to 1.6%. Studies by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the University of Texas find that the leakage rate at the wellhead is just 0.38%. All of these studies underscore that industry is effectively reducing emissions without federal regulatory controls.

However, instead of recognizing that industry has successfully reduced emissions, BLM is proposing command-and-control regulations to do what industry is already doing voluntarily. But by adding red tape that makes it more difficult and expensive to develop natural gas, BLM is undermining natural gas as a climate change solution.

To make matters worse, BLM itself causes higher levels of venting and flaring on federal and Indian lands because of delays in approving Rights-of-Way (ROW) for gas-gathering lines. When it takes BLM a year or more to approve a ROW permit for a natural gas gathering project, the operator has no option but to flare in the meantime. Rather than engaging in a long, drawn out rulemaking process, BLM could reduce venting and flaring rates today simply by approving ROWs in a timely manner.

BLM should embrace the work industry and states have done to reduce venting and flaring, rather than try to pile on additional ineffective and costly regulations. By encouraging rather than discouraging natural gas development, BLM could do more to support the president’s climate change goals.