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Bureau of Land Management Releases Final Natural Gas Methane Rules

natural gas pipelinesThe Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management has released its final rule on methane emissions from natural gas production on federal lands — a rule aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions and raising more revenues for the benefit of taxpayers.

Methane is released during natural gas production and transportation, and it is 72-times potent than carbon dioxide. However, methane emissions dissipate after 20 years where as carbon last a century.

In its release, the Bureau of Land Management says that the rule would cut about 180,000 tons of methane a year. It also says that it could raise $23 million in annual royalty payments because some of the gas is flared because it cannot be captured and transported.

Producers would be required to use best available technologies and they may be required to pay royalties if some natural gas is flared, rather than harnessed and sold. About 40% of natural gas now vented or flared from onshore federal leases could be economically captured with currently available technologies, says the agency — pointing to a 2010 GAO report.

The Environmental Protection Agency has previously proposed to require oil and gas producers to cut such emissions from 2012 levels by as much as 45 percent by 2025. That is in their interest, given that developers can sell that “wet gas” to chemical and manufacturing facilities that use it as a feedstock for their processes.

Indeed, the Obama administration says that methane emissions accounted for nearly 10 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions in 2012, of which around 30 percent came from the production and the transmission and distribution of oil and gas. And while those releases are down by 16 percent from 1990 levels, the EPA says that they are expected to rise by 25 percent by 2025 unless something is done.

Industry says that it is already acting voluntarily and that its methane emissions have fallen by 40 percent, even though natural gas production has risen by 26 percent, all between 2006 to 2012.

“The BLM’s rush to regulate something already being regulated at the state and federal level is an example of poor government policy and a left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute.

The Western Energy Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association of America have filed suit to stop the Bureau of Land Management. They say that the administration has no authority to make such rules.

If the campaign pledges mean anything, President-elect Trump will not look favorably on the ruling. At the same time, the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress also disapprove.

To change it, though, would either require new laws — not possible given that Democrats can use a filibuster — or a different proposal. That effort would then to go through the same processes as did the one submitted by the Obama administration. Then it all has to hold up in the courts.

“America’s natural gas helps power our economy – it’s a resource, not a waste product, and it’s time we start treating it that way,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze. “With better planning and today’s affordable technology, we can cut waste in half. This common-sense rule will save enough gas to supply every household in the cities of Dallas and Salt Lake City combined – every year.”

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