Interior set to delay methane pollution rule

Interior set to delay methane pollution rule
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The Interior Department is preparing to delay implementation of a rule limiting methane waste at oil and natural gas drilling sites. 

In a Federal Register notice set for publication Thursday, Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it would look to postpone the compliance dates for several parts of the Obama-era rule. The rule aims to reduce leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, at drilling sites on federal land. 

Drillers are required to come into compliance with the rule beginning on Jan. 17, 2018. But several industry groups have sued over the regulation, and President Trump has ordered Interior to reconsider the measure. 

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BLM said in its Register notice that it would postpone the compliance dates “in light of the regulatory uncertainty created by the pending litigation and the ongoing administrative review.”

“Given this legal uncertainty, operators should not be required to expend substantial time and resources to comply with regulatory requirements that may prove short-lived as a result of pending litigation or the administrative review that is already under way,” the agency wrote in its notice. 

The notice says the agency will look to suspend the rule’s provisions that set limits on venting and flaring at drilling sites, require drillers to establish “waste minimization plans,” and define pollution that comes from oil and gas operations.  

Obama administration regulators finalized the rule last November as part of a government-wide strategy to reduce methane emissions. BLM’s rule would govern drilling sites on federal and Indian land.

Several states and industry groups, including the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), sued over the rule as soon as it was issued. Lawmakers attempted to strip the regulation off the books legislatively. But a resolution to undo the measure came up short in the Senate in March.

WEA and the American Petroleum Institute both asked regulators to pause implementation of the rule as the agency reassess and potentially rewrites it.

The Trump administration has begun the process of undoing Obama’s entire methane reduction push. On Tuesday night, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would pause implementation of a separate methane regulation ahead of a likely repeal.

The oil and gas sector has opposed efforts to restrict methane emissions, arguing that federal rules are duplicative in light of state standards, and that the industry is good at self-regulating methane leaks.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, and the more that drillers can capture, the more they can put onto the open market. 

Environmentalists, though, support efforts to crack down on methane emissions, which have 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Several groups sued the EPA earlier this month when it was contemplating a long-term delay in its methane regulation, saying the agency overstepped its bounds.

They warn that efforts to undercut methane standards will lead to public health problems.   

“The plans to delay these much-needed methane pollution standards demonstrates that the Environmental Protection Agency is no longer working for the people, it’s working for polluters,” said Lauren Pagel, the policy director at Earthworks, which sued the EPA. 

“A two year delay would allow more air pollution that will lead to higher levels of cancer, asthma attacks from ozone smog, and worsen the climate crisis. Putting these important safeguards on hold for two years puts oil and gas industry profits over the health of communities living near fracking.”

This story was updated at 1:30 p.m.