Energy & Environment

Interior Department proposes new rule on methane flaring waste

A flare for burning excess methane, or natural gas, from crude oil production is seen at a well pad in Watford City, N.D., Aug. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

The Interior Department on Monday issued new proposed waste prevention rules for methane flaring, the first update in four decades.

Flaring, or the burning of extra natural gas at wells, and venting, the release of natural gas into the atmosphere, is a common step in the oil and gas drilling process but can be kept to a minimum with certain precautions.

The department estimates the proposed rule would prevent the waste of billions of cubic feet of gas and generate just under $40 million a year in royalties. The updated proposed rule comes after venting and flaring has seen a dramatic surge in the last decade. Venting and flaring on tribal and federal land was about 86.8 billion cubic feet per year on average from 2010 to 2020,  more than five times the 15 billion cubic feet a year between 1990 and 2000.

Beyond the averages, however, the waste can be even more dramatic in states with more natural gas activity. In the 13 states that conduct the most flaring activity according to Energy Department statistics, more than 3.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was flared from 2012 to 2020, or roughly $10.6 billion in revenue, according to a February analysis by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism.

“It’s encouraging to see the Biden administration take steps to end the legal hot potato over methane venting and flaring,” Center for Western Priorities Deputy Director Aaron Weiss said in a statement. “There’s no reason for oil and gas companies to waste a publicly-owned resource, much less a powerful greenhouse gas like methane. This rule will provide the industry with the regulatory certainty it seeks while protecting taxpayers and the environment.”

The proposed rule includes monthly restrictions on time and volume spent on royalty-free flaring, particularly the No. 1 cause, flaring to address pipeline capacity limits. It would also require all operators to develop a plan for leak detection and repair as well as a plan to minimize waste. The rule will be open to public comment for 60 days.

“No one likes to waste natural resources from our public lands. This draft rule is a common-sense, environmentally responsible solution as we address the damage that wasted natural gas causes. It puts the American taxpayer first and ensures producers pay appropriate royalties,” Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning said in a statement. “We look forward to hearing from the public on this proposal.”

Updated 8:14 p.m.

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