GAO says feds should strengthen federal-land methane accounting

GAO says feds should strengthen federal-land methane accounting
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The Interior Department needs to take numerous steps to improve the way it measures methane emissions from oil and natural gas wells on federal land, a watchdog report found.

The Government Accountability Office found numerous problems and inconsistencies in the instructions the Bureau of Land Management gives to companies to report their methane emissions.

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“As a result of these limitations, Interior may not have a consistent accounting of natural gas emissions from onshore federal leases, and does not have the information it needs to reasonably ensure it is minimizing waste on these leases,” the report said.

For example, around 90 percent of the requests that companies submitted to deliberately vent or flare gas did not meet the agency’s standards for documentation, though most were approved.

Furthermore, the BLM offices have inconsistent policies regarding whether companies should pay royalties for the vented or flared gas.

Methane is the main component in natural gas, and is a potent greenhouse gas. Interior is legally required to waste to a minimum, in order to ensure the maximum taxpayer return.

The BLM is working on a new regulation to reduce methane emissions, which it expects to clear up many of the problems the GAO report found.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, used the report to criticize Republicans’ opposition to the proposed BLM regulation.

“Republicans continue to fight these commonsense conservation efforts tooth and nail in the name of making things a little bit easier for Big Oil,” Grijalva said in a statement. “BLM should issue new rules to address these taxpayer losses as soon as possible and tune out industry demands for continued public subsidies.”

Companies usually vent or flare gas because it’s cheaper than capturing it, due to a lack of transportation capacity, demand or another factor. The industry is therefore opposed to the BLM proposal, saying it will increase their costs and result in lower royalty payments to the federal government.