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Conservation Groups Join Legal Fray Over New Methane Waste Limits

The struggle to limit natural gas waste on public lands is heating up in court, even before new BLM rules take effect. (Pixabay)
The struggle to limit natural gas waste on public lands is heating up in court, even before new BLM rules take effect. (Pixabay)
December 5, 2016

DENVER – A coalition of national, state and local conservation and health organizations has filed a petition in federal court to defend new standards limiting natural gas waste on public and tribal lands.

Two oil and gas groups and the states of Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota filed suit against the Bureau of Land Management's rules shortly after the rules were announced in November.

But Bill Midcap, director of external affairs for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, maintains the BLM struck the right balance between protecting public health and helping industry operate more efficiently.

"We are not in favor of shutting down the oil industry, at all,” Midcap stresses. “These oil companies supply rural areas with jobs, jobs that are much needed in rural areas. It is vital to our state's economy."

Some congressional Republicans have vowed to reverse the rules, which would go into effect days before President Barack Obama leaves office.

The opponents contend new regulations would increase costs and say operators are already working to cut emissions.

But a recent Colorado College survey found 80 percent of westerners, regardless of party affiliation, support efforts to curb methane waste on public lands.

An Environmental Defense Fund study found $330 million worth of methane – the primary component of natural gas – was lost through leaks, flares and venting in 2013.

Midcap says the new rules to minimize that loss would help taxpayers get a fair return on natural resources owned by all Americans.

"The state collects royalties on the amount of gas that is put into a pipeline, that's drilled on federal production of wells,” he points out. “And we'd have more money for education and more money for roads."

The health and conservation groups' petition says the BLM rules will lead to better health outcomes by reducing exposure to smog-forming compounds and carcinogens, such as benzene.

The coalition says limiting methane emissions, which are over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, could also help slow climate change.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO