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Biden rules to limit methane leaks, flaring of boreholes on public lands

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Flames from a flaring pit near a well in the Bakken oilfield. The main component of natural gas is methane, which is odorless when it comes directly from the gas well. In addition to methane, natural gas typically contains other hydrocarbons such as ethane, propane, butane and pentanes.

Orjan F Ellingvag | Corbis News | Getty Images

The Interior Department has proposed rules to curb methane leaks from oil and gas drilling on public lands, part of the Biden administration’s latest move to aggressively tackle gas emissions greenhouse effects that warm the climate.

Interior Bureau of Land Management rules would impose strict monthly time and volume limits on flaring, the process of burning excess natural gas in a well, and require payment for flaring that exceeds those limits. limits.

Global methane emissions are the second largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide and come mainly from oil and gas extraction, landfills, sewage and livestock. Methane is a key component of natural gas and is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, but does not last as long in the atmosphere before breaking down. Scientists have argued that limiting methane is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

The proposal would also require oil and gas producers to develop waste minimization plans demonstrating the capacity of pipeline infrastructure available for planned gas production. The BLM could delay action or ultimately deny a drilling permit to avoid excessive gas flaring, an activity it says has increased dramatically in recent decades.

“This proposed rule will bring our regulations in line with the technological advancements the industry has made in the decades since the BLM rules were put in place, while providing a fair return to taxpayers,” the secretary told Monday. Interior Deb Haaland in a statement.

A broken oil well pipeline gauge near Depew, Oklahoma

J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Officials said the proposal would generate $39.8 million a year in royalties for the United States and prevent billions of cubic feet of gas from being wasted through venting, flaring and leaks. The BLM has a statutory mandate and legal authority to prevent the waste of public and tribal resources.

“This proposed rule is a common-sense, environmentally-friendly solution as we address the harm caused by wasted natural gas,” BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning said. “This puts the American taxpayer first and ensures that producers pay appropriate royalties.”

The BLM’s proposed rule comes after the Environmental Protection Agency said it would expand its 2021 methane rule to require drillers to identify and plug leaks at every wellsite across the country. The EPA said its updated rule would reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 87% from 2005 levels and bring the United States closer to its commitment to reduce overall methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

In addition to the EPA rule, the Cut Inflation Act passed by Congress earlier this year would impose a tax on energy producers who exceed a certain level of methane emissions.

Mallori Miller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, argued that federal methane regulations should be handled by the EPA.

“The problem is not as cut and dry as this rulebook would suggest, as there are many reasons for venting and flaring gas, such as safety issues and connectivity issues,” Miller said. “Of course, it will always be in a producer’s interest to capture and sell a commodity in the market when possible.”

Cole Ramsey, vice president of upstream policy at the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade group, said the association supports waste prevention regulations that comply with the domestic authority to require economic capture of greenhouse gases.

“We look forward to reviewing the proposed settlement in its entirety and will work with BLM in support of a final rule that is cost-effective and builds on the progress we continue to make in reducing emissions,” Ramsey said.

Western and domestic conservation groups said the proposal marked a crucial first step but would need to be strengthened to eliminate gas flaring.

“The Biden administration and Secretary Haaland must go further by establishing clear requirements to eliminate waste caused by venting and flaring to conserve public resources while protecting taxpayers and our energy security,” said Jon Goldstein. , Senior Director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund. .

The BLM is accepting comments on the proposed rule for 60 days, and a final rule is expected next year.

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