Methane rule delay or repeal will hurt western Colorado

By Gabriel Otero

Congressman Scott Tipton continues to vote against the best interests of his constituents. He is supposed to represent our values, but instead has voted to defund the Bureau of Land Management methane waste prevention rule that reduces the venting and flaring of oil and gas produced on public lands. 

The rule, which was finalized at the end of 2016 and went into effect in January of this year, is still on the books, despite multiple legal and legislative challenges by industry trade groups. So far, BLM’s methane rule has survived a U.S. Senate vote to permanently get rid of it and a lawsuit from oil industry trade groups seeking to prevent it from going into effect.

All of these attempts are wrong, and would do real harm to us here in western Colorado. Here are just a few reasons why we ought to keep the guidelines intact.

First, under the rule, oil and gas operators drilling on public lands must clean up their act. These companies waste significant quantities of natural gas — a resource that is owned by the American people. And their negligence deprives our communities of revenue, while burdening us with degraded air quality and public health.

According to an ICF International study, that waste results in a loss to taxpayers of more than $330 million each year. Once fully implemented, the rule could return $800 million in royalties to American taxpayers over the next decade and cut natural gas waste by 35 percent.

Second, the rule will be great for the economy. After Colorado passed its first-in-the-nation methane rule in 2014, oil and gas production increased, jobs were created and new companies focused on aiding with compliance, including by creating new technology, sprung up around the state.

The fact that Colorado’s rule is working shows that protecting the environment is not at odds with creating jobs. Six out of 10 oil and gas operators in the state report that implementing the state’s rule significantly reduced methane emissions in Colorado. State leak detection and repair reports show the average number of leaks identified per inspection dropped by an incredible 83 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Last but not least, the rule will help clean up our air. The BLM is required to limit waste of our public resources, but its new rule has the added benefit of reducing harmful air pollutants that come out of the ground along with methane, contributing to ozone pollution. Elevated ozone levels have been directly linked to an increase in asthma-related emergency room visits in a recent study by the New Mexico Department of Health.

Grand Junction has long had issues with air pollution. Typically that’s in the winter, when inversions settle stagnant, polluted air over the Grand Valley for days or weeks at a time. However, we’ve seen hazardous air pollution this month from disastrous wildfires across the Western U.S. Unfortunately, these fires are made worse by our warming climate, which is changing because methane and carbon dioxide are belched into the atmosphere.

Some members of the oil and gas industry have argued that national guidelines are unnecessary, and that states are better suited to call the shots on oil and gas rules. But that doesn’t help with states with outdated regulations, like our neighbors in Utah and New Mexico.

I spent five years working in the oil and gas business as a solids control field technician and derrickhand. I know that the folks who work in this industry are honest, hard-working people trying to make a living. The people who create policy can do right by these workers, and all of us as taxpayers, by supporting smart regulations like this one.

Oil and gas aren’t going away anytime soon, but in the meantime, we must extract them in a responsible and environmentally conscious manner. I hope that Rep. Tipton will eventually come to support what his constituents deserve, which is to keep the BLM’s wasted gas rule in place to reduce methane pollution and properly steward development on our public lands.

Gabriel Otero is youth Sunday school teacher, youth volunteer coach and outdoor enthusiast. He lives in Fruita.


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