Energy & Environment

Feds target methane leaks on public land

Getty Images
Regulators have finalized a rule cracking down on methane leaks at natural gas drilling sites on federal land. 
The rule, released Tuesday by the Interior Department, updates 30-year-old regulations on methane venting, flaring and leaks for drillers. 
{mosads}The rule will be implemented in phases, but in its full iteration it will require oil and gas companies to use new technologies to cut flaring in half, inspect their sites for leaks and replace old equipment that officials say releases too much methane into the air.
Under the rule, officials also have the power to require royalty payments on excess gas that producers flare off at drilling sites. 
“This rule will benefit the American public and the environment,” Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider said in a statement. 
“The rule responds to recommendations from several government studies, as well as stakeholder and tribal input. The result is an effective rule that not only gets more of our nation’s natural gas into pipelines but also reduces pollution and cuts greenhouse gas emissions.”
Obama has aimed to issue regulations cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by up to 45 percent by 2025.
Methane is the primary component in natural gas. But it’s also a potent greenhouse gas, with 25 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide. This new rule, the Interior Department said Tuesday, could cut public land emissions by up to 35 percent. 
But the rule is likely to run into Republican opposition and could face repeal after President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January. 
The rule will fall within the 60-day window in which Congress can issue a resolution disapproving of it. If lawmakers do so, Trump’s signature would stop the rule in its tracks. 
“The Republican majority in Congress will not let this rule stand. We will work with President-elect Trump to revoke this rule either administratively or through the use of the Congressional Review Act,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a member of Senate Republican leadership.
Republicans have raised objections to rules that they say could hamper oil and gas production, which they hope to expand on federal land with Trump in the White House. 
The oil and gas industry has also objected to Obama’s methane strategy, saying producers are cutting down on methane leaks on their own and that the federal government shouldn’t dictate that work with regulations. 
The trade groups Western Energy Alliance and Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) on Tuesday said they had filed a lawsuit over the new rule, challenging the Interior Department’s authority to regulate methane leaks. 
“Independent producers have repeatedly shared our concerns with and provided industry data to the Obama Administration. This is an 11th hour shot by an administration that doesn’t fully understand how its rules impact our businesses,” said Dan Naatz, senior vice president of government relations and political affairs at IPAA. 
The American Petroleum Institute called the rule a “an example of poor government policy and a left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.”
“BLM’s new regulations are unnecessary, redundant, technically flawed and could stifle the innovations that have led to our nation’s environmental successes,” Erik Milito, the  director of upstream and industry operations at API, said in a statement. 
Green groups and public land advocates, however, praised the rule. 
“Today’s rule is a commonsense fix that’s great news for our climate and our economy—reducing greenhouse gas pollution while ensuring taxpayers get their fair share from the resources that belong to all Americans,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, the advocacy director at the Center for Western Priorities.
“By finalizing this and other rules that have been years in the making, the Obama administration is showing strong leadership in its final weeks.”
—This post was updated at 12:54 p.m. 
Tags Donald Trump John Barrasso
See all Hill.TV See all Video