Countering Misinformation at the BLM Venting and Flaring Hearing

by Kathleen Sgamma, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs on March 2, 2016 - 1:26pm

Denver methane hearingYesterday, BLM held a hearing on its proposed venting and flaring rule. Western Energy Alliance delivered comments at the hearing, along with 91 others. Industry speakers were outnumbered roughly nine to one, but what we lacked in quantity, we made up in quality.

Western Energy Alliance emphasized that natural gas electricity generation delivers orders of magnitude more greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions than the small amount of emissions lost on the production end. By making natural gas development more costly, the rule puts at risk much larger climate change benefits in order to chase a scant .064% of U.S. GHG emissions. Likewise, BLM is putting $4.1 billion in annual royalties at risk while chasing a mere $11 million, or .3%, of royalties for “avoidably” lost associated gas.

We also pointed out that BLM lacks authority under the Clean Air Act to impose the air quality control aspects of this rule. EPA had studied how to regulate liquids unloading in its OOOOa rule, but declined to do so because of operational variability and lack of information. Just four short months later, however, BLM, without the air regulatory expertise of EPA and the states, somehow has figured out how to do so.

COGA, Colorado Petroleum Association, the Consumer Energy Alliance, ConocoPhillips, Pioneer Energy and a few independent oil and natural gas workers also spoke on industry’s side. In between, there was a wide range of speakers, from asthmatics blaming oil and natural gas development for their asthma to Latina speakers claiming to speak for the “Hispanic community” as a monolith to preachers claiming to speak for Mother Earth. I’m a mother, veteran, and avid outdoor enthusiast, but didn’t feel the need to pull out those trump cards during my comments, unlike several others who pointed those things out about themselves.

While there will always be people whom the Sierra Club and other environmental groups mobilize to attend these types of public hearings and repeat misleading or untrue talking points, there were a few types of speakers to call attention to.

  • Companies trying to use the regulatory process to gain a competitive advantage: We observed how an environmental activist brought a representative from FLIR Systems to speak in support of the rule. Since FLIR stands to benefit monetarily, its support for the rule is in direct opposition to the customers it wishes to “serve.” This is not a good business model for the long term. Apogee Systems and EcoVapor, also involved in leak detection and repair, likewise spoke in support of the rule. They should concentrate on making a business case for their services, and not try to harness the government to force companies to use their products. 
  • The American Lung Association (ALA): While we’d all like to think ALA is a noble organization working on public health, the truth is that it has lost scientific and professional objectivity when it comes to the effects of ozone and other air emissions on asthma. It is often used as a tool by the environmental lobby to make exaggerated claims about our industry’s effects on public health, and indeed, the ALA representative at the hearing made alarmist claims about the asthma causing effects of benzene and climate change, none of which are supported by actual science.
  • Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS): One area in which responsible industry groups that follow free market principles, like the Alliance, have gained traction over many decades is by showing how economic growth benefits society overall while providing large returns to the American taxpayer. In reaction to taxpayer groups like the Taxpayer Foundation, founded in the 1930s, that have been successful at influencing public policy, those opposed to free market policies started to develop their own groups with similar sounding names but agendas that support the growth of the state over private enterprise. TCS, founded in 1995, is one such group. In its very misleading “analysis,” TCS claims $380 million in lost royalties over ten years by simply multiplying a high natural gas price to an inflated estimate of “wasted” gas with no consideration of beneficial use or unavoidable circumstances. It assumes all gas can be captured and hence, royalties paid.

Why does the TCS study matter? Besides the fact that TCS spoke yesterday in support of the rule, the study has become a key talking point of environmental activists. But like the game of telephone, the number became even more exaggerated when repeated by various people who were trying to repeat talking points with no first-hand knowledge of the report or the issues. The already exaggerated $36 million supposedly lost in Colorado over 10 years suddenly became a huge source of annual income that could be used for schoolchildren, according to the Mayor of Lafayette, Christine Berg and others.

Once a myth gets into the echo chamber, it’s hard to dislodge it. Western Energy Alliance will continue to try to do so.