The threat of a massive blizzard hasn’t stopped the Department of the Interior from unveiling new regulations on methane flaring from oil and gas operations on federal lands.
Just a week after releasing a ban on new coal mining leases, Sec. Sally Jewell is pushing new regulations to cut the amount of methane that’s flared or vented into the atmosphere from drillers on federal lands. Jewell says the rules would “modernize decades-old standards to reflect existing technologies” to fight global warming and provide more revenues for states and tribes.
Interior is also requiring “operators to periodically inspect their operations for leaks, and to replace outdated equipment that vents large quantities of gas into the air,” according to an agency release. The government is also going to make companies pay royalties for the gas they flare, and give federal agents more flexibility to raise royalty rates above what Congress established.
“I think most people would agree that we should be using our nation’s natural gas to power our economy – not wasting it by venting and flaring it into the atmosphere,” Jewell said in a statement.
Jewell’s announcement has been widely criticized by Republicans and pro-energy groups who argue more federal regulations will simply hamper already faltering energy production on federally controlled land.
“The boom in natural gas production has not only kept energy costs low, but has also brought new life to America’s manufacturing sector—creating jobs for American families,” Tom Pyle, president of the free market Institute for Energy Research, said in a statement. “DOI’s regulation threatens to reverse this progress by hindering production, raising energy costs, and killing jobs.”
Interior argues 40 percent of methane vented or flared on federal lands would be “economically captured” based on a 2010 Government Accountability Office report, and officials say flared, vented or leaked methane costs the feds $23 million every year in lost royalty revenue.
But proponents point out companies already have a huge incentive to capture as much methane as possible — why let your product vent into the atmosphere when it can be sold?
What’s more is that oil and gas operations are already cutting the amount of methane flared, vented or leaked despite huge increases in hydrocarbon production. EPA’s latest data on methane emissions show it has fallen 13 percent from 2011 to 2014.
EPA data also shows that emissions from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations fell 81 percent from 2012 to 2014.
“Companies have every incentive to capture methane, as it is a valuable commodity,” Pyle said. “This isn’t about the climate or the environment. It’s about giving more control to the federal government and depriving Americans of their affordable and reliable energy resources.”
Despite falling methane emissions, the Obama administration is dead set on putting forward regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Interior argues methane is 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and limiting it would help curb global warming.
“These updated regulations, which would be phased in over several years to allow operators to make the transition more cost efficiently, would not only get more of our nation’s natural gas into pipelines and delivered to market but also reduce pollution and cut greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to climate change,” Janice Schneider, Interior’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said in a statement.
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