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BLM delays rule on methane

Oil and Gas Rig

The Bureau of Land Management is issuing a one-year delay in key aspects of its rule regulating methane emissions in oil and gas development, an action welcomed by industry groups for the savings that will result, but considered wasteful and environmentally harmful by critics.

The move is intended to keep companies from having to invest in short-term compliance with measures that the BLM may not require once it finishes a long-term review of the rule, which was put in place last year by the Obama administration. The BLM is considering revising or rescinding the rule in accordance with President Trump's goal of reducing regulatory burdens on energy development.

The 2016 rule was intended to reduce natural gas waste from venting, flaring and leaks during oil and gas production involving onshore federal and Indian leases. It's modeled after a pioneering rule in Colorado, and would result in reduced emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas, and associated pollutants while boosting federal royalty revenues.

The rule has been challenged in court by industry groups and some states.

While certain measures already have taken effect, others, including a leak detection and repair provision, weren't due to kick in until January. The BLM previously had sought to delay parts of the rule more quickly under an Administrative Procedure Act provision, but that effort was struck down in court. The delay it's now enacting follows a formal postponement rulemaking process during which it received nearly 160,000 comments.

The agency also is suspending, until 2019, some provisions that already have taken effect.

Uncertainty up to now about the rule left companies facing the decision whether to make investments in equipment to comply with impending provisions while the rule's long-term fate was awaited.

Barry Russell, president and chief executive officer of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said in a statement Thursday, "This action (by the BLM) is a good step in providing our member companies some much-needed certainty as they plan their capital expenditure budgets for the upcoming year."

He added, "It is never the desire of any company to waste a valuable product that could otherwise be brought to market and sold to American consumers."

The local groups Citizens for Clean Air and Western Colorado Congress voiced disappointment in the BLM's action in a joint news release.

"With this suspension the American citizens will lose revenue from wasted public gas that could be easily captured, and will be exposed to greater air emissions, including … carcinogens," said Rodger Steen of the WCC. "Industry has already demonstrated that they can easily meet this rule and is the big financial winner with this reversion to old BLM rules. This is a very unnecessary rule suspension that hurts our citizens." In a Federal Register notice to be published today, the BLM said its action also will let it "avoid expending agency resources on implementation of activities for potentially transitory requirements."

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