The U.S. Bureau of Land Management should take more time to gather public input before deciding how to change the agency's methane emissions rule for oil and gas developers, said House and Senate Democrats representing Western states.
The Obama-era rule limited natural gas venting and flaring on federal and tribal lands, but the Trump administration has made clear that it intends to roll back the rule's provisions. The BLM in mid-February formally announced its plans to replace the rule and opened a 60-day public comment period.
Six Democratic lawmakers in a March 20 letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke asked that the comment period be extended to 90 days and that the agency immediately schedule public hearings, especially in the western U.S., where most drilling on federal lands happens.
"Waste of taxpayer-owned natural gas is a significant fiscal issue on public and tribal lands," the letter said. "We call on BLM to address this problem by maintaining the 2016 methane waste rule and by undertaking extensive public outreach in considering any changes to this rule."
The BLM proposal aims to lift some of the compliance cost burden for operators with marginal or low-producing wells, especially when it comes to the leak detection and repair requirements in the original 2016 final rule. The BLM estimated that the 2016 rule would impose administrative costs of about $14 million per year, split into $10.7 million for industry and $3.27 million for the agency. Under the proposed revision, the estimated administrative costs would total $349,000 per year.
The benefits would go down, too. The BLM estimated that over 2019 to 2028, the forgone cost savings from natural gas recovery would be between $629 million and $824 million, along with forgone methane emissions reductions valued at between $66 million and $259 million.
"We hope the BLM will provide the same level of public input that went into creation of the 2016 methane waste prevention rule," the letter said. U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., in addition to U.S. Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz.; Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif.; Diana DeGette, D-Colo.; and Jared Polis, D-Colo. signed the letter.
In preparing the 2016 rule, the BLM held multiple public meetings and weighed roughly 330,000 comments over an extended input period, the letter noted.
The comment period for the revised rule is slated to end April 23.