BLM revises rule to reduce flaring on federal lands

By Patrick C. Miller | September 20, 2018

The U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) this week announced a final rule that revises the 2016 Waste Prevention Rule intended to reduce natural gas flaring and venting on federal land.

The BLM said the revised rule—which requires a 60-day comment period—would “reduce unnecessary burdens on the private sector and restore proven regulations at a time when investment in federal onshore oil and gas is skyrocketing.” The rule will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

A BLM news release said the action was part of the Trump administration’s ongoing effort to lower the regulatory burden on Americans while fostering economic growth and energy development through innovation, best science and best practices.

According to BLM, it reviewed the 2016 rule and found considerable overlap in existing state, tribal and federal regulations. In addition, the agency determined that the Obama administration had underestimated the cost in the 2016 rule.

The rule was reviewed under two executive orders issued by President Donald Trump—one to reduce regulations and regulatory costs and the other to promote energy independence and economic growth. BLM determined that many parts of the 2016 rule were unnecessarily burdensome on the private sector.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) issued a statement supporting the BLM’s revised rule, saying the organization favors cost-effective regulation focused on waste prevention and resource conservation.

“As a result of continued industry innovation across the U.S. oil and natural gas industry, methane emissions have plummeted 14 percent since 1990 during the same period that natural gas production has increased more than 50 percent,” said Erik Milito, API upstream and industry operations group director. “Driven by greater use of natural gas, emissions from power generation continue to decline and air quality continues to improve.”

Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., called the 2016 BLM rule “overreaching and duplicative.” He noted that an attempt by Congress in May 2017 to pass a resolution against the rule failed by a single vote in the Senate. He is running against incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who voted to retain the federal rule.

“Representing the second ranking oil and gas producing state in the country, I take seriously protecting jobs and investment in North Dakota, as well as the energy security of the nation,” Cramer said. “Only those who care about wasting taxpayer dollars, enriching lawyers, and furthering regulatory burden would have voted against decisively striking down this rule. Instead, it was left for the administration to fix what President Trump had promised to do.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who led the effort in the Senate against overturning the BLM rule, said the Trump administration was rushing through a rollback without any public hearings, and against the wishes of a majority of westerners who opposed the rule’s repeal.

“The methane rule was established with wide support after years of open dialogue and stakeholder involvement,” Udall said. “And the evidence is clear: this rule has had no negative effect on job creation or on the booming U.S. oil and gas production on federal lands. That’s why the methane rule was upheld by a bipartisan vote in the United States Senate—despite heavy lobbying from some in the oil and gas industry.”