Venting and Flaring

In November, 2016, the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized a new regulation that would force drilling operations to capture flared or escaping natural gas at sites on public and Native American lands. 

But BLM’s rule is technically flawed and redundant, and it could impede the technological innovations that have led to increased domestic use of cleaner-burning natural gas – the main reason U.S. energy-related carbon emissions have fallen to levels since the early 1990s.


Energy Related Carbon Emissions by Source

The rule could result in the shutting in of a number of wells on federal lands, potentially reducing the availability of domestic natural gas supplies for consumers and decreasing revenues to the U.S. Treasury. Combined with other Obama administration regulatory moves, the BLM rule will tend to discourage energy investment on federal and Indian lands. It also duplicates EPA and state regulatory programs already in place.

“Our concern is that recent proposals ignore … market-based progress and sometimes the agency’s own science in favor of top-down government mandates that threaten to undermine U.S. energy production and raise consumer costs. …. Producers already prioritize capturing methane for delivery to consumers to heat homes and generate clean-burning electricity, and industry innovation and continuous commitment to emission reductions have achieved results. … EPA and the Bureau of Land Management are developing new regulations, despite the obvious concern that implementing two sets of regulations from two different agencies on the same issue practically guarantees duplicative, potentially costly overlap. A smarter regulatory approach based on commonsense, science-based solutions and collaboration can build on industry success without sacrificing jobs or jeopardizing economic, environmental and energy security benefits.”  Marty Durbin, executive vice president at American Petroleu Institute. 

The progress Durbin notes is a 14.8 percent reduction in methane emissions associated with natural gas development from 1990-2015 – even as production increased 47 percent.

Methane Emissions 1990-2015Chart: EPA methane emissions by sector 1990-2014

The reality is that BLM lacks the authority to regulate air quality, which is already regulated by EPA and the states, and the rule’s costs could outweigh its potential benefits. From an energy standpoint, the rule could discourage investment and natural gas production on federal lands, which already has been declining. The Congressional Research Service found that from 2010 to 2015, U.S. federal onshore natural gas production is down 18 percent – compared to a 55 percent increase on state and private lands.

“The venting and flaring rule oversteps BLM’s mandate from Congress by usurping Clean Air Act authority that resides only with the Environmental Protection Agency and the states. … Oil and natural gas producers have significantly reduced methane emissions over the last quarter century in the absence of federal regulation.”  Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance.

New leadership in the White House and at the Interior Department should focus BLM instead on fixing permitting, infrastructure and pipeline delays so that natural gas can reach consumers more quickly. This will help increase the production and use of natural gas, which is leading the way to reduced U.S. carbon emissions.

It’s just one example of how Washington could change its approach to America’s energy abundance – by implementing policies that embrace that abundance and a commonsense regulatory posture that manages safe and responsible energy development instead of hindering it. (source:

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