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Wyoming court overturns federal rule limiting methane emissions
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Wyoming court overturns federal rule limiting methane emissions

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Flaring

Sinclair Casper Refinery flares during operations in Evansville in July.

In a win for Wyoming’s oil and gas industry, a federal court overturned on Thursday a rule limiting the amount of methane and other pollutants emitted during natural gas production on public and tribal lands.

The final ruling has been a long time coming.

Back in 2016, the state of Wyoming, along with other energy-dependent states, was set on challenging new federal restrictions on methane emissions adopted during the Obama administration. The groups called the regulations overreaching and harmful.

So, they challenged the rule — know as the Waste Prevention Rule — in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming.

But when the Trump administration assumed office shortly afterward in January 2017, he moved to repeal the rule. In response, the Wyoming court decided to place the case against the rule on hold.

Meanwhile, litigation over the Trump administration’s attempts to repeal the rule continued on in another federal court in California. Conservation groups sued the Bureau of Land Management.

And the federal court in California eventually sided with the conservation groups, overturning the Trump administration’s repeal of the rules and effectively reinstating the Waste Prevention Rule.

Industry groups opposed to the decision weren’t happy with the ruling from California.

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So they asked the U.S. District Court for Wyoming to lift the stay on their original suit against the rule. The court did, allowing Wyoming to continue its objection to the Obama-era federal methane regulations.

The legal ping-pong over the Waste Prevention Rule appears to have settled, for now, following Judge Scott Skavdahl’s decision vacating the rule on Thursday. The judge ruled the Bureau of Land Management under the Obama administration “exceeded its statutory authority and acted arbitrarily in promulgating the new regulations,” according to the court decision.

Along the way, Wyoming did not adopt the Bureau of Land Management’s 2016 Waste Prevention Rule, which would also apply methane emission limits and standards to existing wells on federal and public lands, as well as collect royalties from wasted gas. A similar statewide policy on existing wells has also not been introduced during Gov. Mark Gordon’s time in office.

Conservation advocates considered Thursday’s court decision against the environmental protections a loss for air quality and the economy.

“We’re deeply disappointed by the court’s puzzling and unsupported conclusion that the Bureau of Land Management can’t limit methane waste because that would reduce greenhouse gas pollution,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Oil and gas industry waste of methane squanders public resources and poses a grave threat to the climate and air quality. We’ll fight this.”

Methane and other emissions can enter the atmosphere if equipment at oil and gas sites falters and leaks, or operators turn to flaring.

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming said it was pleased with the latest decision out of Wyoming’s federal court.

“For us, what this ruling is about is making sure that (Bureau of Land Management) and really all federal agencies are operating within the authority given by Congress,” Ryan McConnaughey, communications director for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, told the Star-Tribune. “We, as an industry, want to prevent waste of natural gas and other products, because that is product that can be sold. Really what this ruling does is it takes us back to the rules in place before the Obama administration.”

Follow the latest on Wyoming’s energy industry and the environment at @camillereports

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Energy and Natural Resources Reporter

Camille Erickson covers the state's energy industries. She received her master's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Before moving to Casper in 2019, she reported on business and labor in Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington.

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