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Supporters of Methane Limits Celebrate, Brace for More Litigation

Opponents of new oil and gas leases presented 33,000 public protests to New Mexico lawmakers at the Roundhouse in 2019. (wildearthguardians.org)
Opponents of new oil and gas leases presented 33,000 public protests to New Mexico lawmakers at the Roundhouse in 2019. (wildearthguardians.org)
July 20, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A federal judge is requiring the Bureau of Land Management to reinstate a rule that limits methane emissions from oil and gas drilling.

Residents of Western states who fought for the rule are praising the decision, although they assume the ruling will be appealed.

The Trump administration rolled back the 2016 methane reduction rule, but the judge's decision to reinstate it allows 90 days for further litigation.

New Mexico rancher Don Schreiber says leaks, vents and flares are not only dangerous to public health, but a financial loss for extraction companies.

"There is no rhyme or reason as to why they would take a rule that is so beneficial -- including to the oil companies -- and that they would attack it," he states.

In recent weeks, the courts have also blocked the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines for inadequate environmental reviews.

In rolling back the methane rule, the BLM argued it was burdensome for industry and would prevent job creation.

The judge called that justification "wholly inadequate."

Indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by the environmental hazards of oil and gas extraction.

Carol Davis, coordinator/director of the Navajo environmental group Diné CARE, says thousands of Native Americans live within a half-mile of oil and gas drilling sites, and limiting methane emissions could improve their health.

"Heart disease, respiratory issues, nausea, headaches, migraines -- I'm guessing, from what I experienced personally, people's health has to definitely improve significantly if they're prohibiting waste," she points out.

At his ranch, Schreiber is surrounded by 122 oil and gas wells. He says in addition to addressing human health, the Obama-era rule was meant to reduce climate change impacts from methane emissions.

"It was really devastating to see it come under attack when you're a front line community, like my family is and like my neighbors, and so many rural people across the West, particularly Indigenous people," he states.

In finding revocation of the methane rule illegal, the judge said the Trump administration "systematically ignored the basics of rulemaking and steamrolled" over federal laws "to advance certain special interests."

Disclosure: Environmental Defense Fund - Clean Energy Program contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Environmental Justice, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM