True Oil Co. Rig

A True Drilling rig operates in February in Wright.

Christine Peterson, Star-Tribune

Industry groups are asking a federal judge in Wyoming to delay some aspects of federal regulations meant to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

In a filing with the U.S. District Court in Wyoming on Friday, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Western Energy Alliance argued that key provisions of the Bureau of Land Management’s methane waste rules, including the use of leak detection and repair equipment to find fugitive leaks, would be too costly for industry to implement by an upcoming January deadline.

The Obama-era regulations are currently under review by the Interior Department.

“It does not make sense for companies to incur substantial costs, which are conservatively estimated to be over $115 million just between now and January 17, 2018, to comply with a rule that is being substantially changed,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of Denver-based Western Energy Alliance, in a filing to the court.

The regulations are disliked by a number of companies in Wyoming that argue such federal limits affect a wide range of current and potential oil and gas operations in the state.

Wyoming regulators wrote the playbook on the venting and flaring rules now being implemented by the BLM, but thus far the state has only applied its strongest provisions in the Upper Green River Basin, an area with a history of ground level ozone spikes.

Attempts at a quick solution in industry’s favor have failed so far.

Industry unsuccessfully bid for an injunction last January, days before the first compliance date for the Obama-era regs.

The Senate could not secure a simple majority vote to axe the rules months later, and a California court invalidated the Interior Department’s initial attempt to stay the rules, because the agency didn’t follow the Administrative Procedures Act.

The Interior Department is still early in what could be a lengthy public comment process as it tries to revise the rules.

Environmental groups are defending the BLM’s right to regulate air quality as part of its charge to manage federal minerals, arguing that natural gas lost to leaks and flaring add up to lost revenue for tax payers.

Wyoming advocates say the average citizen agrees with the rules in some form, pointing to a Colorado College poll that found 87 percent of Wyomingites polled supported such regulations.

Advocates have also pressured state regulators in Wyoming to make rules for the Upper Green River Basin, which mandates leak detection equipment and on-the-ground checks for pipeline leaks, statewide standards.

So far Wyoming has not announced plans to do so.

Both Colorado and Utah, meanwhile, are considering changes to air quality rules. Increased regulations would address ozone safety concerns along the Front Range, proponents say. In Utah, some argue a proposed streamlining of the permitting process that’s found favor from industry and environmental groups, would also help drive down emissions.

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner


Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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