Senate fails to repeal BLM venting and flaring rule

By Patrick C. Miller | May 16, 2017

By a vote of 51 to 49, the U.S. Senate last week failed to overturn a Bureau of Land Management rule on venting and flaring implemented during the Obama administration, drawing strong criticism from the oil and gas industry.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) expressed disappointment at the Senate’s failure to stop what it called “an unnecessary, costly and duplicative methane regulation,” but also said it was encouraged by the Interior Department’s review of the rule as part of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in March.

“America’s natural gas and oil industry supports commonsense regulation, but the BLM’s technically flawed rule on methane emissions is an unnecessary and costly misstep,” said Erik Milito, API upstream and industry operations group director. “The rule could impede U.S. energy production while reducing local and federal government revenues.”

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said failure to repeal the BLM final rules governing methane emissions on federal and tribal lands is an affront to North Dakota and state primacy.

“The industry supports the goals of capturing greater quantities of associated gas and reducing waste but this duplicative and unnecessary rule comes at an enormous cost to the state’s economy, tax revenues and private mineral owners,” he said.

Ness said he was disappointed with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who voted with several Republicans and Democrats from energy-producing states against repealing the rule.

“Hundreds of energy employees and numerous businesses, chambers of commerce and trade associations wrote to express concern for these rules,” he said. “Despite this, Sen. Heitkamp has chosen to stand with the environmental activists and the Democratic party in Washington rather than the oil and gas workers and people of North Dakota.”

Heitkamp responded by saying that her goal was to limit methane waste from oil and natural gas wells vented or flared from public or tribal land. She noted that multiple tribes in North Dakota expressed concerns with overturning the rule, including the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation on the Fort Berthold Reservation in the heart of the Bakken shale play.

“This rule is not perfect, which is why I’m encouraging the administration to work with industry, landowners and tribes to make the changes necessary so the rule is more effective and efficient rather than overturn it,” Heitkamp said.

Barry Russell, president and CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), said the rule puts independent producers—many of which are small family-run businesses with limited resources—on the hook for complying with the costly burdens of a flawed regulation.

“This regulation will particularly impact small-producing, marginal wells located on federal lands,” he explained. “Shutting-in these smaller wells means less royalties will get sent back to the federal treasury. These federal dollars are vital for many western economies and are used to fund state and local priorities, such as education and infrastructure projects like roads and bridges.”

According to API, data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) annual draft inventory of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions raised questions about why the BLM rule was necessary. The report showed that methane emissions from all petroleum systems decreased by more than 28 percent since 1990, including an 8 percent decrease of emissions from petroleum production from 2014 levels. EPA attributed this improvement to decreases in emissions from associated gas venting and flaring.