A court victory implements methane waste prevention, but Zinke's deregulation proposal looms

Methane pollution in Pawnee, CO.

Methane pollution in Pawnee, CO.

Mason Cummings.

The battle to regulate methane isn't over

The U.S. District Court of California ruled last Thursday that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must immediately implement the 2016 Methane Waste Prevention Rule, ending yet another chapter in a long legal and legislative battle.

The agency had suspended the 2016 rule, meant to cut the waste of natural gas on public lands created by venting, flaring and accidental leaks, in January 2017 following the orders of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

However, the battle over regulating methane is not over.

The BLM has a new proposal out now gutting the majority of the 2016 rule’s requirements, making it easier for oil and gas companies to continue to waste publicly owned natural gas. Among other things, it eliminates key environmental and public health protections, including regular leak detection and repair requirements and specific flaring reduction provisions.

These existing requirements, if fully implemented, would result in a 35% reduction in methane emissions.

Methane emissions reductions are important because of the dangers of methane as a greenhouse gas. In the short term, it is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Along with methane, natural gas emissions contain pollutants like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), benzene and other known carcinogens, which dirty the air and worsen respiratory problems. Additionally, each year Americans lose $330 million from natural gas waste on public lands.

Importantly, the procedures to harness natural gas waste are cheap and fast, leaving the question of why the BLM is reversing course on its own recently finalized regulation.

This most recent decision from the court came down to a lack of evidence from the BLM to justify postponing the rule, with Judge Orrick stating, “it appears that BLM is simply 'casually ignoring' all of its previous findings and arbitrarily changing course."

Upon notice of the ruling, Chase Huntley, Energy and Climate Director at The Wilderness Society, said, “Secretary Zinke can try to turn as many tables in his favor by stacking committees with special interests and ignoring public input, but he is not above the law.”

This was the BLM’s fourth attempt to stop implementation of the 2016 rule.

Their new proposal is just one of 67 moves the Trump administration has made to deregulate environmental rules. If it stands, it will show the administration that they can safely deregulate more.

As former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in 2016 about the Methane Waste Prevention rule: “This rule to prevent waste of our nation’s natural gas supplies is good government, plain and simple.