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Biden rule limits methane leaks from drilling on public lands


Flames from a burning pit near a well in the Bakken oil field. The main component of natural gas is methane, which is odorless when it comes directly from the gas well. In addition to methane, natural gas usually contains other hydrocarbons such as ethane, propane, butane, and pentanes.

Orjan F. Ellingvag | Corbis News | Getty Images

The Interior Department has proposed rules to reduce methane leaks from oil and gas drilling on public lands as part of the Biden administration’s latest move to aggressively tackle climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Bureau of Land Management Regulations of the Interior will impose strict monthly time and volume limits for flaring, the process of burning excess natural gas in a well, and require payment for flaring in excess of these limits.

Global methane emissions are the second largest driver of climate change after carbon dioxide and come mainly from oil and gas production, landfills, sewage and livestock. Methane is a key component of natural gas and is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, but doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere before decaying. Scientists argued that methane limitation necessary to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

The proposal also requires oil and gas producers to develop waste minimization plans that demonstrate the capacity of existing pipeline infrastructure for expected gas production. The BLM may delay or ultimately deny a drilling permit to avoid excessive gas flaring.

“This proposed rule will bring our regulations in line with technological advances made by the industry in the decades since the BLM regulations were enacted, while providing a fair return to taxpayers,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Monday.

Oil pipeline gauge ruptured near Depew, Oklahoma

J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Officials said the proposal would bring the U.S. $39.8 million a year in royalties and prevent billions of cubic feet of gas from being wasted through venting, flaring and leaks. The BLM has a statutory mandate and legal authority to prevent the waste of state and tribal resources.

“This draft rule is a smart and environmentally responsible decision as we address the harm caused by wasted natural gas,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. “This puts American taxpayers first and ensures that manufacturers pay appropriate royalties.”

The BLM’s proposed rule comes after the Environmental Protection Agency said it would expand its methane rule in 2021 to require drillers to detect and fix leaks at every well across the country. The EPA said its updated rule would cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 87% below 2005 levels and bring the U.S. closer to its commitment to reduce overall methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

In addition to the EPA regulations, the Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress earlier this year would impose a tax on energy producers that exceed certain levels of methane emissions.

Mallory Miller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, argued that federal methane regulation should be handled by the EPA.

“The issue is not as stark as it may seem because there are many reasons for gas release and flaring, such as safety concerns and connectivity issues,” Miller said. “Of course, it will always be in the producers’ interest to capture and sell the product on the market if possible.”

Cole Ramsey, vice president for exploration and production policy at the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade group, said the association supports waste prevention rules that are consistent with the Interior Department’s authority to require economic capture of greenhouse gases.

“We look forward to a full review of the proposed regulation and will work with the BLM to support a final rule that is cost-effective and supports the progress we continue to make in reducing emissions,” Ramsey said.

Western and national conservation groups said the proposal represented an important first step but needed to be strengthened to eliminate gas flaring.

“The Biden administration and Secretary Haaland must go further by establishing clear requirements to address waste from venting and incineration to conserve public resources while protecting taxpayers and our energy security,” said John Goldstein, senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs at the Defense Fund. environment. .

The BLM is accepting comments on the proposed rule for 60 days, with a final rule expected next year.

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