Federal officials have revised an Obama-era rule curbing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, putting environmental groups on edge.
The Bureau of Land Management rule, finalized in 2016, limited venting and flaring from oil and gas development on federal land. Multiple attempts to ax the new restrictions failed last year, including a push from the U.S. Senate to undue a host of federal rules passed in the final months of the Obama administration.
Wyoming’s response to the controversial venting and flaring rule, both during its development and since it became effective last year, has been mixed.
For many companies operating in the state, the new rules would mean increased oversight of pipelines and the additional cost of equipment to monitor for leaks. Industry groups argued the rules exceeded the Bureau of Land Management’s authority. To environmental advocates, the rule was a way to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change and degrade air quality in industrial hot beds from Pinedale to Laramie County.
Federal officials appeared to take industry’s side, undoing the most contested aspects of the rule and touting the boon new regulations would be for rural energy development.
“In order to achieve energy dominance through responsible energy production, we need smart regulations not punitive regulations,” said Joe Balash, assistant secretary for land and minerals management for the agency, in a statement Tuesday.
Western politicians also called the revision a win for energy. Sen. Mike Enzi said the rule was part of “an anti-fossil fuel agenda.” Sen. John Barrasso said he was pleased that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was revising the standards.
“If left in place, the rule would have discouraged energy production and job creation in Wyoming and across the West,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
Wyoming is the largest producer of federal natural gas in the country and one of the largest of oil. The federal influence on mineral development in the state has become increasingly contentious in recent years as drilling practices have forced a greater overlap of federal and state management for companies to juggle.
Nonetheless, a number of Wyomingites are supportive of aspects of the Bureau of Land Management rule, favoring practices that reduce methane emissions, like mandating technology that catches leaks. A recent survey from Colorado College found that 77 percent of Wyoming residents polled favored such standards.
Some environmental groups have focused on the air quality issue raised by methane emissions, others on the potential to harness a publicly owned resource — natural gas — for sale.
Wyoming has its own standards for venting and flaring, as well as methane-reducing standards from the state Department of Environmental Quality in regions of the state where air pollution from industry has been a recurring problem.
Companies in the Upper Green River basin participate in low emissions days during the winter to counter ground level ozone spikes. They also follow state obligations that are similar to those in the Bureau of Land Management methane rule under revision, such as on-the-ground checks of infrastructure and the use of infrared cameras to spot fugitive emissions.
The Environmental Defense Fund, which has touted the benefits of the methane rule since its inception, put out a statement arguing that the revisions would cut the most effective aspects of the rule, despite its widespread support outside of industry.
“The proposal (Zinke) put forward today would only serve to reward the least responsible actors in industry at a time when other companies are moving forward to tackle methane waste,” said Fred Krupp, president of the advocacy group.
The proposed revision of the BLM rule is up for a 60-day public comment.