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Interior moves to delay Obama-era rule on methane emissions

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2015, file photo, a gas flare is seen at a natural gas processing facility near Williston, N.D. 

The Bismarck Tribune recently printed an editorial from The Billings Gazette on the BLM’s effort to rollback flaring and venting rules. That editorial, however, doesn’t address the true impact the rule has had on federal agencies, industry and the environment.

As a reminder, the Obama Administration passed last-minute rules in its waning days that have negatively impacted the oil and gas industry. Among them was a rule on flaring and venting that added hundreds of pages of additional requirements for the oil and gas industry, many of which are unnecessary and already being enforced by the state. Contrary to the rule’s intentions, however, it has not prevented waste; it has only helped enable it through unnecessary and duplicative requirements of industry and the BLM itself.

The Gazette only needed to look at what’s happening here in North Dakota to see the proof of that. Since November 2016 when the rule was finalized, flaring has increased by 4 percent statewide and 7 percent on the MHA Nation where the rule has the biggest impact. The increase is even higher at 9 percent on trust lands managed exclusively by the federal government and tribe. Clearly, these rules have been ineffective at preventing waste as intended.

That’s because these rules have heaped additional duties – duties already successfully being carried out by the state of North Dakota – on an already over-burdened staff at the BLM. Instead of focusing on the approval of rights-of-way and build-out of necessary infrastructure, which is the only effective and feasible way to capture natural gas, the BLM is left doing a job already being done by the state and has dedicated hours to trying to fix this poorly written and duplicative rule.

The Gazette says that it wants the government to “focus on implementing incentives to make gas production more efficient with less waste.” Those incentives could have been achieved one year ago when the Senate had an opportunity to roll back these rules and allow the BLM to focus on permitting infrastructure to capture that natural gas. The United States Senate sought to assist with that by fixing the rule last May through a Congressional Review Act. This was similar to CRAs that helped rescind the Waters of the U.S. rule and regulations imposed on Clean Coal – both of which would have been disastrous to North Dakota’s agriculture and energy industries. Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer recognized the negative impacts and burden the ill-named waste prevention rule would have been for North Dakota and supported the CRA, but it ultimately failed by one vote. Since then, the BLM, Department of Interior, and industry have been working diligently to try and fix the rule, costing them a tremendous amount of time and taxpayer dollars. As of now, there is no end in sight, and it is now up to a left-wing California judge to decide if the rule can be put on hold until revisions can be made or the rule will be forced upon agencies and industry alike.

The oil and gas industry is fully supportive of capturing more natural gas, but this rule targeted North Dakota and the Bakken with a duplicative, burdensome and costly paperwork that provided zero net benefit beyond what the state had already implemented a year or two prior. As a result, the 2016 rule is not preventing waste; it is enabling it. For this reason, we commend Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s efforts to rescind and rewrite these rules and allow both the industry and state of North Dakota to continue its progress of building infrastructure to capture more natural gas.

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Ron Ness is president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.