Countering misinformation on the BLM venting and flaring rule
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The lines are drawn on the upcoming vote in the Senate to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) waste prevention rule, and in some ways they’re predictable. The environmental lobby is advocating for yet more regulation that kills jobs, and industry is trying to stop duplicative federal regulation that reduces American energy production. But there is quite a bit of deception, not least in the groups the environmental lobby is using at the forefront.  

In a recent Hill piece, the so-called Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship came out strongly in favor of the rule. But all the “studies” cited were from left-wing advocacy groups, including what appear to be taxpayer and industry groups that Republicans and moderate Democrats might listen to. The Center for Methane Emissions Solutions (CMES) and Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) are in the forefront, but they were designed to imitate free-market groups. In reality, CMES is a handful of companies led by environmental activists into thinking that using the power of the federal bureaucracy is a better way to increase market share than providing a better product at a lower price. TCS pursues an agenda of greater federal government control over the private sector in the guise of concern for the taxpayer.

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Stewardship is not about believing deceptive claims by the environmental lobby that industry is ipso facto bad for the environment. The oil and natural gas industry long ago adopted an ethic of environmental stewardship. My industry has met every legitimate environmental challenge through technological innovation and responsible regulation. We’re continuing a long-term trend since 1990 of reducing methane emissions by 21 percent even as natural gas production has skyrocketed by 52 percent. We are and should be heavily regulated, but we’re going to oppose duplicative regulation that delivers little environmental benefit while shutting down domestic production.

In reality, maintenance and operational circumstances mean that venting and flaring will sometimes occur, not least for the purpose of avoiding explosions from gas buildup. The good news is that several studies show that leaks from natural gas wells are just over one percent. While emissions from well sites are low, increased use of natural gas in the electricity sector, where greenhouse gas emissions are otherwise ten times higher, is the main reason the U.S. has reduced emissions more than any other industrial country. Making it too difficult to develop American natural gas puts much larger environmental benefits at risk. The rule’s unintended consequences are not good environmental stewardship.

Stewardship of the environment doesn’t require grabbing more federal control at the expense of the states. Congress gave states and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jurisdiction over air quality, not BLM. Yet BLM has put in place an air quality rule that usurps the state role. It also duplicates recent EPA rules to do the exact same thing, but without bothering to follow Clean Air Act requirements for existing sources. An unlawful rule on multiple levels deserves overturning using the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

There’s nothing conservative about using environmental group “economics” that ignores market forces. TCS claims hundreds of millions of dollars of savings annually for taxpayers from the rule, never mind that BLM’s own numbers put the return to taxpayers between $3 million and $10 million. But those few millions come at the expense of hundreds of millions in federal royalties from oil resources that won’t be produced. Economist John Dunham estimates that 112 million barrels of oil, worth $6 billion at today’s prices, would not be produced from existing low-volume wells priced out of business by the rule. That waste of American oil would result in $110 million less in revenue to state and federal governments annually. 

The CRA is a bipartisan bill passed in the late 1990s exactly for the purpose of overturning misguided federal regulations squeaked in at the end of an administration. The Senate should overturn this duplicative BLM rule that so grossly violates the law and basic principles of environmental stewardship.

Kathleen Sgamma is president of Western Energy Alliance, a regional oil and gas trade association based in Denver.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.