BLM to lock in methane rule revision

The Bureau of Land Management is expected today to take its final step toward relaxing Obama-era methane standards for oil and gas development on public lands.

The Trump administration's draft rule, released earlier this year, was largely viewed as a rescission of the 2016 Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, which regulates flared, leaked and vented natural gas from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands (Energywire, Feb. 14).

The Interior Department will hold a press call this afternoon, at which time it is expected to finalize those changes.

Interior Department attorneys last month indicated in court filings that release of the final "revision rule" was imminent (Greenwire, Aug. 30). The Obama rule has been caught in a complex web of litigation that is likely to encompass the revised rule.

BLM estimates the revised rule could result in close to $1 billion in net gains over 10 years. Those benefits were tied to expected savings for oil and gas firms, which would no longer have to pay to comply with the Obama rule. The Trump administration's proposed rule anticipated a loss of at least $26.4 million in royalty payments, which benefit taxpayers.

The draft revision rule applied a severe discount to the climate impact of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Obama's BLM estimated its rule would have a minimum annual net benefit of $46 million once oil and gas operators were forced to internalize the costs of emitting methane into the atmosphere.

Shortly after President Trump took office, Republican lawmakers launched an effort to repeal the 2016 rule under the Congressional Review Act. The regulation narrowly escaped rescission.

After a dramatic Senate vote against scrapping the regulation from the rulebooks, BLM launched its rewrite. Bureau officials wrote in the draft revised rule that many provisions of the Obama regulation would have unnecessarily burdened energy production.

BLM's methane standards, which cover existing oil and gas infrastructure, are separate from EPA's methane guidance, which applies to new sources. BLM wrote in its proposed revision rule that the Obama rule assumed too much authority over air quality, an issue that falls to states and EPA.

EPA similarly aims to walk back components of its methane rule. The agency last week proposed changes to its New Source Performance Standards for the oil and gas industry (Greenwire, Sept. 11).

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