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New Bill Would Curb Methane Pollution from Oil and Gas

A new bill would limit flaring of methane gas at wells such as this one in the Pawnee National Grasslands north of Denver. (Wild Earth Guardians)
A new bill would limit flaring of methane gas at wells such as this one in the Pawnee National Grasslands north of Denver. (Wild Earth Guardians)
May 16, 2019

DENVER – U.S. Rep. Diane DeGette of Colorado has introduced a bill to reinstate Obama-era controls on the venting and burning of methane gas on federal land.

The gas is a byproduct of oil and gas extraction.

The Methane Waste Prevention Act of 2019 would reinstate rules that the Trump administration rolled back saying they were a burden on industry.

Chela Garcia, director of conservation programs for the Hispanic Access Foundation, notes that the air pollution creates large health costs that fall disproportionately on the Latino community nationwide.

"Latinos are 165% more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of particulate matter than are non-Hispanic whites,” she points out. “More than 1.81 million Latinos live within a half mile of existing oil and gas facilities. And Latino children are 60% more at risk than their white counterparts of having asthma attacks exacerbated by air pollution."

The bill sets a goal of capturing 85% of all gas produced on public lands within 3 years and 90% within 5 years.

The bill reinstates the Bureau of Land Management's methane waste prevention rule and stops the Trump administration's current effort to water down the EPA's rules on new and modified wells.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that scientists link to climate change.

In 2014, Colorado enacted first-in-the-nation, state-level methane regulations that apply to wells on private, state and county land.

Christine Berg, Colorado field consultant for Moms Clean Air Force, says operators reported roughly 50 percent fewer leaks in 2017 compared to 2014.

"It does work,” she points out. “That finding leaks, repairing them and capturing fugitive emissions is actually really beneficial, not only to our air quality but also to the industry itself."

The industry can resell the methane gas it captures, but it pays a royalty on gas produced on federal land.

Conservation groups estimate that Colorado has missed out on $36 million in royalties since 2009 from gas that has been vented or flared on federal and tribal land in the state.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CO