Obama targets methane emissions on federal land

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The Obama administration is targeting oil and natural gas drillers on federal land in its latest regulatory push to cut down on methane emissions.

In a set of standards proposed Friday by the Interior Department, regulators want to restrict the rates at which drillers deliberately or accidentally release natural gas.

The standards are also intended to restrict the deliberate burning of gas that is not captured.

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It’s the latest climate change-related push from the Obama administration, and comes after several organizations this week pronounced 2015 as the warmest year on record.

The administration has vowed to crack down not only on carbon dioxide but also on methane. Methane is the main component of natural gas, and though it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere very long, it has more than 25 times the global warming power of carbon.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in August proposed similar goals to cut methane output from drilling.

Officials pitched the rule both as a climate change crackdown and as a way to ensure taxpayer-owned resources on federal land are not wasted. The government is paid fees and royalties from the drilling of gas on federal land.

“The commonsense and cost-effective measures we are proposing reflect the recommendations of several government studies as well as stakeholder views and tribal consultation over the last two years,” Janice Schneider, an assistant secretary at Interior, told reporters.

Schneider added that the regulations would be phasd in over several years to allow operators to transition more "cost efficiently."

The new standards from Interior’s Bureau of Land Management would mandate that drillers use certain technologies currently available to cut down on gas flaring, periodically inspect their systems for leaks and replace old, leaky equipment.

Drillers would also need to limit leaks from storage tanks and limit gas leaks when drilling oil.

The BLM is also proposing to give itself more flexibility to increase royalty rates for oil and gas drilling on federal land, and to charge royalties for gas that is deliberately wasted.

BLM Director Neil Kornze said more than 80 percent of current wells on federal land meet the new standards.

While the EPA’s rule from last year would apply to all newly drilled wells around the country, Interior’s standards are targeted at all wells on federal and American Indian lands, including existing ones.

Republicans and the oil and gas industry dismissed the standards as an unnecessary attack on fossil fuels a week after President Obama put a three-year moratorium on new coal mining on federal land.

“This will stymie oil and natural gas development on federal lands, which is the president’s real goal: to keep it in the ground,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanUS secretly agreed to help lift Iran bank sanctions: report 9/11 bill is a global blunder that will weaken US efforts abroad Dear Speaker Ryan: your 'forward-looking agenda' ignores climate change MORE (R-Wis.) said in a statement.

“As the markets drop, and America’s saving and retirement portfolios suffer, it’s astonishing that this president would seek to further cripple America’s energy industry. The American people’s welfare should not have to compete with the president’s desire to cement his climate legacy,” he said, promising to “continue to fight back” against the rules.

The American Petroleum Institute said drillers do not need regulations as an incentive to reduce waste.

“Another duplicative rule at a time when methane emissions are already falling and on top of an onslaught of other new BLM and EPA regulations could drive more energy production off federal lands,” Erik Milito, the group’s upstream director, said in a statement. “That means less federal revenue, fewer jobs, higher costs for consumers, and less energy security.”

Environmentalists cheered the announcement.

“For too long, oil and gas companies have been able to vent and flare unlimited quantities of natural gas and ignore massive leaks from outdated infrastructure,” said Josh Mantell, carbon campaign manager at The Wilderness Society.

The Natural Resources Defense Council welcomed the proposal, but said it does not go far enough.

“These rules are an important start to reducing potent methane pollution — which fuels climate change and threatens public health — from oil and gas companies operating on our nation’s public lands,” said Meleah Geertsma, a senior attorney with the group. “However, they fall short of what’s necessary to tackle the full scope of the problem, including leaving significant gas leaks and flaring unaddressed.”