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Interior moves to delay Obama-era rule on methane emissions

Interior moves to delay Obama-era rule on methane emissions

Interior moves to delay Obama-era rule on methane emissions

A gas flare is seen on Feb. 25, 2015, at a natural gas processing facility near Williston, North Dakota. The Interior Department is moving to delay an Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands.

Obama-era regulations on emissions from the oil and gas industry, put on hold by the Trump administration, will go into effect immediately, a federal court ruled Wednesday, hours after the Interior Department announced its intention to try again to delay the rule.

The Interior Department’s stay on the Bureau of Land Management’s methane rule was unlawful because it did not follow federal guidelines that include public comment, according to a U.S. District Court in Northern California.

The rule, finalized last November, forces energy companies to capture methane that’s burnt off or “flared” at drilling sites on public lands during production because it pollutes the environment. An estimated $330 million a year in methane is wasted through leaks or intentional releases on federal lands, enough to power about 5 million homes a year, environmental groups argue.

The court decision does not mean the case of the BLM methane rule is closed, however.

The Interior Department said in a notice to be published Thursday in the Federal Register that an analysis conducted during the Obama administration may have underestimated costs and overestimated benefits. The department wants to delay the rule until January 2019. Its long term intention is to change or rescind the rule.

The court decision represents the third failed effort to curb a rule that Wyoming industry groups have long argued is both burdensome and outside the BLM’s jurisdiction. A federal court in Wyoming denied industry’s request to stay compliance on the rule early this year.

Months later, a bid by Senate Republicans to overturn the methane rule failed unexpectedly, prompting Interior officials to promise to suspend, revise or rescind the regulation as part of a wider effort by the Trump administration to unravel what it considers burdensome regulations imposed by former President Barack Obama.

The methane rule imposes a “significant regulatory burden that encumbers American energy production, economic growth and job creation,” especially in North Dakota, Colorado and New Mexico, Interior said.

Wyoming’s delegation applauded the move to delay the rule Wednesday.

Sen. Mike Enzi called the regulations “impractical.”

“Today’s decision brings much needed relief to American energy producers, and I hope it marks the beginning of the end for this rule,” he said in a statement of the Interior’s new push to roll back the rule.

Environmental groups sharply disagree, but they were celebrating by the end of the day.

“The court victory is a huge victory. This is now the third strike against attempts to undo this rule, said Jon Goldstein, a senior policy adviser for the Environmental Defense Fund. “What this is showing us is how wrongheaded those attempts are.”

Rolling back the methane waste rule “makes no sense and is yet another example of the lengths this administration will go to sell out our public lands,” said Jenny Kordick, an energy policy expert for The Wilderness Society.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said the methane rule provides badly needed revenue to states like New Mexico for public education and other services.

Prior to the rule, an estimated $100 million in taxpayer-owned natural gas was wasted each year from oil and gas wells operating on public lands in New Mexico, Udall said, adding that the rule has helped to reduce dangerous air pollution across the West, including a methane cloud the size of Delaware that hangs over the Four Corners region of New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado.

“This rule is simply good policy—good for taxpayers, good for the economy and good for the environment,” Udall said. He and other Democrats encouraged the public to speak out to defend the rule during a 30-day public comment period that begins Thursday.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a leading contributor to global warming. It is far more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide but does not stay in the air as long.

The contentious federal limits mirror, in many ways, the state standards in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin, where high ground level ozone kicked off an effort to curb emissions from the large natural gas plays in that region of the state. Environmentalist have pushed for those limits to be enforced statewide. Industry in Wyoming has argued, and state regulators thus far agree, that statewide limits are unnecessary.

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner


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Energy Reporter

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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