Activists flare up over methane ruling

The Western Colorado Congress protesting methane rollbacks by projecting a massive image on the front of the federal building Wenesday night.

A Wyoming judge this week halted implementation of a much-embattled 2016 Bureau of Land Management rule regulating methane emissions from oil and gas development, even as local activists highlighted nearly $2 billion worth of natural gas they say has been wasted in such operations over the last five years.

U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl on Wednesday ordered that provisions of the rule that were to have been implemented in January should not take effect because the BLM is moving to substantially revise the rule.

"To force temporary compliance with those provisions makes little sense and provides minimal public benefit, while significant resources may be unnecessarily expended," Skavdahl wrote in his order.

Skavdahl ruled on the same day that Western Colorado Congress and Citizens for Clean Air in Grand Junction highlighted an estimated $1.9 billion worth of gas lost venting, flaring and leaking on public lands since 2013, when the methane rule was first proposed. Activists Wednesday evening projected the Environmental Defense Fund's methane "waste ticker" on the Wayne Aspinall Federal Building.

The activists said in a news release that the ticker calls attention to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's waste of a resource belonging to American taxpayers by proposing to weaken the rule.

"I am disappointed that Secretary Zinke continues to put the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of Coloradans and the American people. His latest proposal to gut the BLM methane rule without holding public hearings on the issue ignores millions of Americans like myself who support limiting methane waste," Kristin Winn, a Grand Junction resident and member of Citizens for Clean Air, said in the release.

The 2016 rules require companies to do leak detection and repair, reduce flaring and take other steps to reduce emissions.

Skavdahl's ruling this week came in a case brought by some states and supported by industry groups to challenge the rule. In January 2017, he denied a request for a preliminary injunction against the rule's implementation, in part because significant parts of it weren't due to take effect until January of this year.

The U.S. House of Representatives then voted to repeal the rule, but that measure was narrowly defeated in the Senate. The BLM also twice has suspended the rule as it looked to revise it, but federal judges in California rejected those moves, most recently in a ruling in February.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, a party in the Wyoming case, said her group is pleased that the Wyoming judge is looking at the issue from a practical standpoint.

"He does not think it makes sense to make companies comply with a rule that BLM is substantially changing in just a matter of months. We're happy that he agreed with our arguments and that time and resources will not be wasted on an overreaching rule that the Obama administration used to try to take air regulatory authority away from (the Environmental Protection Agency) and the states, and give to BLM," she said.

Conservation groups on Thursday said they'll appeal this week's ruling.