Twenty-four Senate Democrats, led by U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), have sent a letter to Senate leaders asking them to defend the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Methane and Natural Gas Waste Prevention Rule. Montana Senator Jon Tester was not among the signees.
The current BLM methane rule was finalized in November, 2016 after months of public comment and industry input. It requires oil and gas producers to use currently available technologies and processes to cut flaring in half at oil wells on public and tribal lands. Operators also must periodically inspect their operations for leaks, and replace outdated equipment that vents large quantities of gas into the air. Other parts of the rule require operators to limit venting from storage tanks and to use best practices to limit gas losses when removing liquids from wells.
The rule also protects the environment. Without government action, U.S. methane emissions are projected to increase substantially. The rule projects cutting methane emissions by as much as 35%, an important factor in achieving the US commitment to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
What’s wrong with flaring
There are many reasons to be concerned about flaring, the deliberate open-air burning of natural gas:
- Flaring releases methane, a greenhouse gas that, when released directly into the air, traps heat in the atmosphere. The process of flaring contributes directly to global warming.
- Flaring has a substantial impact on the health and environment of landowners who live near a flared well. The methane release is smelly, noisy, and, according to the Natural Institute of Health, exposure causes “headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and loss of coordination” in people and animals. It creates a 24×7 bright light, blocking out the night sky.
- Flaring is a waste of a precious natural resource. In oil plays, where natural gas is an unwanted byproduct of oil extraction, flaring is common because oil is 30 times more valuable than natural gas. So rather than capture it and take it to market, it is destroyed — hardly an efficient way to treat precious natural resources.
House votes to cut rule
Last Friday the House voted 221-191 to roll back the Interior Department rule that had clamped down on oil companies that burn off natural gas during drilling operations on public lands. The vote was not strictly along party lines, with three Democrats voting in favor of repealing the rule and 11 Republicans opposing. Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, who is awaiting confirmation as Secretary of the Interior, did not vote.
Proponents of cutting the rule argue that it is causing job losses in energy-dependent states across the West and is undercutting domestic energy production. This is a dubious claim that is not backed up by independent data.
In addition to Udall and Wyden, the letter was signed by Senators Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Cory A. Booker (N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
If the Senate votes to cut the rule, it will go to President Trump for signature.
Contact Senator Tester today
The fact that Tester didn’t sign this letter is concerning. To find out where he stands on this issue and to urge him to vote against stopping this important legislation, call him (202) 224-2644, fax to (202) 224-8594, and/or email him here.
The full text of the letter can be found by clicking the link.