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New Methane Rules on Public Lands Could Boost State Revenues

New rules to limit natural-gas waste on public lands are being met with opposition by congressional Republicans and the oil and gas industry. (iStockphoto)
New rules to limit natural-gas waste on public lands are being met with opposition by congressional Republicans and the oil and gas industry. (iStockphoto)
November 17, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- As the clock ticks down on the Obama administration's final days, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has finalized rules to reduce natural gas waste on publicly owned lands.

According to a study from the Environmental Defense Fund, $330 million worth of gas currently is lost through leaks, flares and venting. Michael Surrusco, senior policy analyst with the group Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the new BLM rules could also put money into state coffers.

"Most of the federal lands are in the western states,” Surrusco said. "This rule will mean more gas is being captured and sold and the royalties that come from that are split between the federal government and states. So it should increase the revenues for states."

Some congressional Republicans have promised to overturn the rules, which would go into effect days before Obama leaves office.

The Interior Department's announcement was followed quickly by an oil and gas industry lawsuit. Industry groups argued that operators are already cutting emissions, and say that new regulations would increase costs.

A recent Colorado College poll found that 80 percent of westerners, across party lines, supported efforts to curb methane waste on public lands.

In 2014, before the state passed rules limiting methane emissions, oil and gas producers lost nearly 130,000 metric tons of methane in Wyoming - enough gas to heat 165,000 homes. Matthew Murdock, COO at the company Alert Plus, said limiting waste is also a public health issue.

“That amount of gas has a significant risk to people out in the field, especially when they don't know what's going on,” Murdock said. "And you have people who are working out there every day or even ranchers and people on public lands who are being exposed without even knowing it."

Murdock said that Wyoming entrepreneurs are ready to help tackle the problem of methane waste, and the BLM's rules will help mitigation companies create jobs, business opportunities and better stewardship in the Rocky Mountain region.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY