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BLM Natural-Gas Waste Rules in Effect, for Now

New rules limiting methane waste on public and tribal lands will go into effect, but the future of the BLM regulations is far from certain. (Rawi_earth/iStockphoto)
New rules limiting methane waste on public and tribal lands will go into effect, but the future of the BLM regulations is far from certain. (Rawi_earth/iStockphoto)
January 19, 2017

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — New Bureau of Land Management rules limiting natural-gas waste on federal and tribal lands will go into effect after a federal judge in Wyoming blocked efforts by industry groups to stop the measure on Monday.

Lisa McGee, program director at the Wyoming Outdoor Council, called the decision a temporary reprieve, and said the rules still could be stripped through the Congressional Review Act.

"If Congress decides that BLM shouldn't have passed a rule, then that's a huge disservice to the American people who want our federal government to be accountable and to manage our shared public resources responsibly,” McGee said.

Three states, including Wyoming, and industry groups have filed a suit to reverse the rules, claiming the BLM has overstepped its authority to regulate air quality. In denying the injunction request, the U.S. District Court for Wyoming affirmed the BLM's authority to prevent waste of publicly owned resources.

The Western Energy Alliance said it's confident that, after considering the full merits of the case, the court will side with industry.

McGee said Wyoming lost out on more than $60 million dollars in royalties over the past five years because of the amount of methane - the primary component of natural gas - lost on public lands. She said that money could be put to good use, especially as the state faces budget shortfalls.

"It's something the Legislature is addressing right now,” she said. "By reducing this waste, we'll ensure that the state of Wyoming gets its fair share of royalties and severance taxes. And those things fund our schools and other essential services."

Industry groups have also argued that the cost of capturing methane outweighs the benefits. McGee disagrees, in part because of new technologies that now are available to find and fix leaks.

"What companies have found who do this kind of leak detection and repair is that it's very cost-effective. Because when you plug a leak, it's gas you can sell,” McGee said.

At his confirmation hearing Tuesday, Ryan Zinke - President-elect Donald Trump's pick to be secretary of the BLM - said he was troubled by the amount of natural gas wasted on federal lands, but has previously been critical of the agency's moves to address the problem.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY