BLM says vent rules’ focus is to reduce oil, gas waste

The Bureau of Land Management has begun consideration of new options to reduce venting and flaring during development of federal oil and gas leases.

The action comes on the heels of Colorado’s recent adoption of new limits on oil-and-gas emissions, including measures to reduce the release of methane, which is considered a potent greenhouse gas.

The BLM’s focus isn’t on pollution reduction but on conservation of a resource and preventing its waste, as well as helping ensure a fair return in royalties to taxpayers.

“We are focusing on that because that is where our authorities lie,” Tim Spisak, the agency’s senior adviser for conventional energy, said during a public outreach meeting the BLM held Wednesday in Golden and also livestreamed on the Internet.

The agency plans to hold more such sessions in North Dakota, New Mexico and Washington, D.C., in advance of issuing a draft proposal. A public comment period runs through May 30.

Spisak said the BLM is analyzing Colorado’s new rules as part of its process.

Among the measures the BLM is considering is adopting a policy on leak detection and monitoring — something Colorado did. Spisak said it’s possible that periodic inspections could be required, perhaps more frequently in the case of larger facilities.

Darin Schroeder of the Clean Air Task Force environmental group cited a study issued Wednesday concluding that once companies find leaks it pays off economically to repair almost all of them. Such leaks account for about 30 percent of all methane emissions by the industry, he said.

“So we think it’s very beneficial to require both the inspection and the repair,” he said.

Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance industry group told the BLM that methane “is not regulated under the Clean Air Act as a pollutant or a toxin. It doesn’t have direct health impacts.”

Sgamma said the industry is dedicated to reducing methane, and pointed to how increasing use of natural gas energy is cutting U.S. carbon emissions. She cautioned against adopting rules that would make it uneconomic to develop gas on public lands.

“Then we’re not producing natural gas, which has that large carbon-reduction benefit,” she said.

According to a 2010 Government Accountability report, venting and flaring of gas occurs in the case of gas that cannot be easily captured. The GAO found that data from the Environmental Protection Agency, technology vendors and its own analysis suggest that about 40 percent of gas “estimated to be vented and flared on onshore federal leases could be economically captured with currently available control technologies. According to GAO analysis, such reductions could increase federal royalty payments by about $23 million annually and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to about 16.5 million metric tons of (carbon dioxide) — the annual emissions equivalent of 3.1 million cars.”

That report said that for onshore federal leases, companies reported to the Department of Interior that about 0.13 percent of produced gas was vented or flared.

“Estimates from EPA and the Western Regional Air Partnership … showed volumes as high as 30 times higher,” it said.

The GAO said methane losses reported by companies don’t fully account for factors such as gas dehydration equipment and thousands of valves.

Following a 2004 GAO report, the Department of Interior put regulations and guidance in place to limit venting and flaring during routine procedures.

“However, Interior’s oversight efforts to minimize these losses have several limitations, including that its regulations and guidance do not address some significant sources of lost gas, despite available control technologies to potentially reduce them,” the 2010 report said.

It recommended that Interior improve its venting and flaring data and address limits in its regulations and guidance to “reduce lost gas, increase royalties, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Interior Department generally concurred with the GAO recommendations.


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