Senate Can't Pass Methane Rollback So Interior Decides To Do It Anyway

Senators voted 51-49 Wednesday against an attempt to eliminate an Obama-era rule to limit methane emissions from oil and gas production facilities on federal and tribal lands.

The Obama administration finalized a rule in November that would force energy companies to capture methane that's burned off or "flared" at drilling sites because it earns less money than oil. "The rule could impede US energy production while reducing local and federal government revenues", said a statement from Erik Milito, who directs upstream and industry operations at API.

The Western Energy Alliance, a major oil and gas industry group, has described the methane regulation as an overreach of executive authority in a matter better left to states and the EPA. The U.S. House of Representatives already voted to repeal the rule. It updated 30-year old regulations governing venting, flaring, and leaks of natural gas. Three Republican senators joined all 48 Democrats and independents to keep the regulation in place. With the onset of the energy boom, some companies have taken to flaring or venting gas, emitting the methane itself straight into the atmosphere, if pipelines or other infrastructure aren't immediately available to transport and process it. "BLM conducted a regulatory impact assessment of the rule in which they found that expected changes in production volumes of oil and gas were small enough not to impact energy prices", Rebecca Gasper, research analyst for World Resources Institute told Energy Manager Today.

Wednesday's defeat in the Senate, however, marks the first time Republicans have failed in using the CRA. His administration said the rule could avoid wasting up to 41 billion cubic feet (BCF) of natural gas per year.

"This is a good, solid rule, and it's a commonsense rule, and I think it prevents waste just like it was laid out to do", New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat, said on the Senate floor.

The U.S. Senate could not muster enough votes Wednesday to undo rules created to reduce methane pollution.

"I believe that the public interest is best served if the Interior Department issues a new rule to revise and improve the BLM methane rule", McCain said.

Despite Portman's announcement, some environmental groups are optimistic they can score an unlikely victory by preserving the Obama-era rule under a Republican-controlled Congress and White House. Several companies sued the US government past year to try to get the rule overturned, but a US District judge in Wyoming ruled in favor of the BLM.

Administrative rulemaking should have a check in Congress, and using the CRA to rescind this methane regulation would not have prevented future methane regulations.

"The Bureau of Land Management's methane waste rule is an important step in both reducing emissions of a harmful pollutant and minimizing the waste of a valuable public resource that can be used to heat homes and produce electricity".

  • Zachary Reyes