UPDATE: BLM Methane Rule Challenged

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In 2014 we (the San Juan Basin) became the national methane hotspot. Last month we had a huge win in curbing the hotspot with the passing of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)’s methane standards… and they’re already under attack. But before we get to that, let’s recap.

In reality, we’ve been the hotspot for a long time, but 2014 was the year NASA and the University of Michigan discovered the thick, invisible cloud of methane over the Four Corners. The Four Corners Methane Hotspot, as it’s now known, is a big deal. Methane is 86 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So scientists got to work to discover the source of this egregious air pollutant.

This August, NASA released their findings: The natural gas industry is responsible for a vast majority of the hotspot. There are over 40,000 oil and gas wells in the San Juan Basin, so this wasn’t a surprise to us – but now there is proof.

This is also a big deal. Methane is the primary component of natural gas, but it’s not the only component. Methane waste from the gas industry is associated with hazardous pollutants that threaten human health. Wasted natural gas is also lost revenue for companies and, therefore, the communities that would have received royalty money from sales.

Thankfully, when NASA discovered the hot spot, the Obama Administration was already working on a set of standards for the oil and gas industry to limit methane pollution on BLM lands (a.k.a. the BLM methane rule).

The rule will regulate new, modified, and existing sources of methane. The San Juan Basin has over 40,000 existing sources, so this is particularly significant for our region.* The BLM methane rules are not an end-all-be-all to our methane problem, but they’re a huge step forward, and …

Obama signed the BLM methane rule last month!

 

The Obama Administration and the BLM did a fantastic thing by approving this common sense rule. It’s good for the climate, our health, and the economy.

This victory is the direct result of years and years of effort from groups all over the nation. It’s also due to you, our supporters, who have submitted hundreds of comments to the Administration in support of the rule over the years.

We owe you a big thank you.

 

But, sadly, that’s not the end of the story. Within hours of Obama signing the BLM methane rule into being the states of Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota, and two industry groups, countered with a legal attack. The industry groups are the Western Energy Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

Friday, with 13 other health and environmental groups,
we intervened in that lawsuit.

 

Another question many of you have asked is, “How will Trump affect this rule?” Unfortunately, there are a couple ways the new administration could negate or disempower the BLM methane rule:

  1. Congress could use the Congressional Review Act to ask Trump to nix the rules. They would need a majority vote, however, and the effort it would take may not outweigh the rule’s bipartisan appeal.
  2. Congress could include language in appropriations bills that would temporarily limit funds or enforcement.

But, this rule is not just about the environment, or even human health; it acts to limit waste, which is attractive to federal agencies and state governments. No one likes wasted money, especially public royalties.

So, there’s still hope, and we’re going to keep fighting for this common sense regulation that is good for our environment and our communities’ bottom lines. We hope you’ll continue to join us – because we can’t do it without your support.


* The Environmental Protection Agency rule that will also limit methane pollution currently only regulates new and modified sources. Obama agreed to draft existing source rules for the EPA, but it is unclear how this will move forward in the new Administration.

 

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