Senate narrowly rejects CRA resolution to revoke BLM methane rule

The US Senate has rejected a Congressional Review Act resolution to revoke the US Bureau of Land Management’s methane emissions rule on May 10 by a 49-51 vote. Backers of the resolution, which the House approved Feb. 3 by a 221-191 vote, immediately called on US Sec. of the Interior Ryan Zinke to withdraw the rule immediately.

This story was updated May 12.

The US Senate has rejected a Congressional Review Act resolution to revoke the US Bureau of Land Management’s methane emissions rule on May 10 by a 49-51 vote. Backers of the resolution, which the House approved Feb. 3 by a 221-191 vote, immediately called on US Sec. of the Interior Ryan Zinke to withdraw the rule immediately.

“If left in place, this regulation will only discourage energy production, job creation, and economic opportunity across the West,” Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John A. Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, said immediately after the vote. “Wyoming and other leading energy producing states already regulate methane emissions. We don’t need this duplicative rule.”

Two Senate Democrats who voted against the CRA resolution on May 10 urged Zinke to revise the rule or propose a new one because significant concerns exist. “Put simply, we believe BLM erred in its development of the rule and failed to consider credible concerns raised by industry stakeholders and tribes with active oil and gas on federal and Indian lands,” Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) said in a letter to the secretary.

They said that Zinke has several tools at his disposal to change the rule, including:

• Asking US District Court in Wyoming, which is hearing a lawsuit by the Western Energy Alliance, Independent Petroleum Association of America, and four producing states against the rule, to remand the matter back to BLM for consideration.

• Beginning the revision process by issuing a rule suspending enforcement, and proposing a replacement to correct the current rule’s inherent flaws.

• Using his secretarial discretion to issue guidance that BLM will not enforce certain portions of the existing rule until is fully reconsidered.

Acting US Interior Sec. for Land and Minerals Kate McGregor said following the vote that the department already has reviewed and flagged BLM’s methane rule “as one we will suspend, revise, or rescind given its significant regulatory burden that encumbers American energy production, economic growth and job creation.”

McGregor said, “The rule is expected to have real and harmful impacts on onshore energy development and could impact state and local jobs and revenue. Small independent oil and gas producers in states like North Dakota, Colorado, and New Mexico, which account for a substantial portion of our nation’s energy wealth, could be hit the hardest.”

Groups representing oil and gas producers pledged to work with DOI to overturn the rule as they expressed their disappointment. “The Senate has voted to deny taxpayers $110 million in revenue every year,” Western Energy Alliance Pres. Kathleen Sgamma said in Denver.

WEA, IPAA, and the four states will continue to make their case in the Wyoming federal district court that the rule exceeds BLM’s authority because it tries to regulate airborne emissions, which is under the US Environmental Protection Agency’s jurisdiction, Sgamma said. BLM has said that the rule tries to stop the waste of federal resources, which is within its purview.

“We’ll also work with [Interior] to revoke this rule. BLM has neither the authority nor expertise to regulate air quality, and we know that Sec. Zinke understands that fact,” Sgamma said.

Affects smaller producers

Independent Petroleum Association of America Pres. Barry Russell said, “This overreaching rule puts independent producers—many of which are small family-run businesses with limited resources—on the hook for complying with the costly burdens of a flawed regulation.”

Russell continued, “This regulation will particularly affect small-producing, marginal wells located on federal lands.” Shutting in these smaller wells means fewer royalties will be sent to the federal treasury, he said. “These federal dollars are vital for many western economies and are used to fund state and local priorities, such as education and infrastructure projects like roads and bridges.”

The American Petroleum Institute said following the Senate’s vote that BLM’s methane emissions rule is duplicative and unnecessary. Data from EPA’s latest US greenhouse gas inventory in March show that methane emissions from all petroleum systems decreased by more than 28% since 1990, notably an 8% drop from petroleum production since 2014 which EPA attributed to less associated gas venting and flaring, it said.

“The US is a global leader in production and refining of natural gas and oil while cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the result of technological advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. It is through innovation—not unnecessary, costly and duplicative regulation—that we are able to achieve this success,” said Erik Milito, API upstream and industry operations group director.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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