By Jon Goldstein, Environmental Defense Fund
What do Farmington, N.M., Oklahoma City, Lakewood, Colo., and Dickinson, N.D. have in common? These cities are in the heart of oil and gas country, and most importantly, were locations in which the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) heard overwhelming support for strong efforts to reduce wasteful venting, flaring and leaks from the oil and gas industry at a series of public meetings in recent weeks.
Methane is a potent climate pollutant and the main constituent of natural gas, so when oil and gas companies on public land allow methane to be leaked, burned or vented to the atmosphere, it not only impacts air quality and our climate, it also represents an economic loss to taxpayers.
Individually at each hearing, and collectively across all four, voices supporting strong BLM methane waste and pollution rules far outweighed the opposition. In the final tally, supportive statements outnumbered negative ones by more than three-to-one. This fits with recent polling that found that a bipartisan majority (fully 80 percent) of Westerners support commonsense rules to cut oil and gas waste on BLM managed lands.
To put this in political terms during this primary season, strong BLM action won the West by a landslide.
And like a winning candidate, BLM now has a strong mandate to strengthen and finalize their rule without delay. More delays, such as the two, three or even six month extensions some in industry requested at the hearings will only lead to more waste of taxpayer and tribal revenue.
In this case, time really is money. For instance, a three-month delay will mean another $82.5 million dollars of our natural gas would be wasted from venting, flaring and leaks on federal and tribal lands according to a recent report.
BLM doesn’t collect royalty payments on natural gas that escapes to the atmosphere before being sold; therefore local communities lose out on funding that could have gone to improve schools, roads and other needed infrastructure. In fact, according to a recent report, taxpayers could lose out on $800 million over the next decade as a result of the wasteful venting and flaring of natural gas.
This was a point that BLM heard loud and clear at their Lakewood, Colo., hearing on Super Tuesday last week.
“The BLM proposal is a step in the right direction to make sure that our nation’s public natural gas resources located within taxpayer-owned federal lands are not being wasted. Every year oil and gas companies waste hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of natural gas through unchecked leaks and the careless practice of venting and flaring,” Maite Arce, president of the Hispanic Access Foundation, said in a statement to the BLM panel in Colorado.
Clean air issues were also raised in the Colorado hearing by Linda Johnson, a board member of Breath Utah, who travelled all the way from the Salt Lake City to testify.
“The final form of the BLM rule is out for comment. We think it’s very good for people in the Uinta Basin, and everywhere oil and gas mining happens. It could be even stronger. To capture every bit of wasted gas, there could be more frequent leak detection and other inspections, but it’s an important step in the right direction. Breathe Utah thinks it’s a very good, very necessary rule, that closes a lot of gaps—regulatory gaps and literal leaky gaps.”
Meanwhile a similar set of robust, diverse voices spoke up in the BLM hearing Dickinson, N.D., last Thursday.
“This rule is an important step towards ensuring that taxpayers and owners receive fair compensation for all resources extracted from BLM land,” Ryan Alexander, president of national budget watchdog organization Taxpayers for Common Sense, told the BLM in North Dakota.
Tribal communities also weighed in, a crucial constituency for a rule designed to reduce waste and pollution on both federal and tribal lands.
“I want BLM to know that tribal mineral owners like myself value safe and clean air on Fort Berthold Indian Reservation,” said Theodora Bird Bear, a tribal member of the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota.
BLM’s proposal is a strong step toward better management of our energy resources. But there’s room for improvement especially to provisions that could and should require oil and gas companies to inspect sites for methane leaks on at least a quarterly basis as leading states require.
Join us in getting the strongest possible BLM methane rule across the finish line by filing comments before the BLM deadline on April 8.
This blog post originally appeared on the Environmental Defense Fund’s Energy Exchange blog.
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