The Venting & Flaring Circus Comes to Town

by Ryan Streams, Regulatory Affairs Analyst on February 29, 2016 - 1:25pm

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is in the midst of holding outreach meetings for the public to weigh in on its recently proposed venting and
flaring rule, and so far they are a bit of a spectacle.

Designed to address flaring and methane emissions from oil and natural gas production on public lands, BLM’s rule is a misguided and heavy-handed attempt to address a problem states and industry have been dealing with effectively for years. BLM’s proposal fails to recognize emission reductions industry has made on its own without a redundant federal rule, even as we’ve dramatically increased natural gas production. As part of the public comment process, BLM is taking written comments and holding a series of four public outreach meetings around the West.

Recently, BLM held the first two hearings in Farmington, NM, and Oklahoma City. This week the sessions continue in Denver and Dickinson, N.D. I attended the Farmington session and pointed out BLM’s failure to recognize that since 1990 oil and natural gas producers have decreased methane emissions by 21% even as natural gas production has climbed 47%–all without any federal rules. I also pointed out BLM’s foray into federal air quality regulation goes well beyond its jurisdiction, and it could significantly reduce the high rate of flaring on public lands simply by approving Rights-of-Way (ROW) in a timely manner.

Both the Farmington and Oklahoma City meetings featured the usual grandstanding and misinformation from environmental activists who were bussed in from Albuquerque and Dallas, respectively. In Farmington, BLM opened registration several hours early just as the Sierra Club bus rolled in, allowing activists to pack the list of early speaking slots. However, there was a strong turn-out from industry too, along with officials from the local community who stressed that oil and natural gas development provides jobs and economic vitality. The original venue was 300 people overcapacity, and the hearing had to be relocated to a larger space, which speaks to how people on all sides are concerned with this issue.

Despite the circus from the environmental groups repeating the same talking points ad naseum, there were some positive takeaways. BLM heard loudly and clearly from industry and the Farmington community about the devastating effects the rule will have on marginal wells. According to NMOGA’s testimony, the combination of low gas prices and added regulatory burden together could render 37.5% of wells in the San Juan basin uneconomic. That’d be a crushing blow to New Mexico, a state that counts on the oil and natural gas industry for 35% of its general fund revenue. La Plata Energy Council countered the incorrect talking points from the bussed-in activists, showing how the states and tribes have documented for years that the methane “hot spot” in the Four Corners region is largely the result of natural methane seeps from unique geological features.

It remains to be seen whether common sense will trump bombastic rhetoric. We’ll continue to engage in the rulemaking process and provide BLM with detailed and constructive comments on its proposed rule. Western Energy Alliance will be at the hearing in Denver to help BLM cut through the inevitable circus atmosphere.