The U.S. Senate is taking up a measure to repeal a rule that curbs natural gas waste and gets taxpayers a fair return. Hopefully, the West Virginia delegation will see past the politics, vote against repealing the rule, and choose to protect taxpayers.
The Bureau of Land Management oversees millions of acres of federal land located mostly in the American West. It is charged by Congress to ensure a fair return to taxpayers and minimize waste from the development of natural resources on these lands. Since the advent of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in recent years, oil and gas development has increased dramatically. So too has the amount of natural gas lost into the atmosphere during drilling though leakage or flaring.
The total amount of natural gas flared from BLM-administered leases doubled from 2009 to 2013. Lost gas in 2014 alone had a sales value of $444 million and a royalty value of $56 million. Between 2009 and 2015, federal and Indian onshore wells vented or flared enough gas to serve more than six million households over the course of a year.
As a result, the Department of the Interior Inspector General recommended in 2010 that the BLM clarify its requirements for royalty-free use of gas. That same year, Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that around 40 percent of natural gas being vented and flared from onshore Federal leases could have been economically captured with the use of control technologies that were already available. GAO also found Interior’s oversight of the oil and gas program had significant limitations, specifically that its regulations did not address significant sources of lost gas. In 2011, the GAO added Management of Federal Oil and Gas Resources to its list of government programs it considered to be at high risk – those with “greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.”
The vote in the Senate is important because it would scuttle the BLM’s attempt to curtail lost gas. More importantly, it would prevent the BLM from trying again. The law that allows Congress to overturn federal rules, the Congressional Review Act, stipulates that if a rule is repealed, a similar rule cannot be issued – ever – without an act of Congress. The House and Senate would have to draft and pass new legislation to allow the BLM to make a similar rule. This would prevent any action to curtail the waste of gas, possibly for years, as the problem continues to grow worse.
If the Senate overturns the methane waste rule, it will make the original waste guidelines drafted in the late 1970s effectively permanent. This would lead to more waste.
If our Congressional leaders are against government waste, they should vote against the repeal. The BLM manages our federal lands, and forbidding it to stop waste of natural gas is bad business. Taxpayers own those resources, and we should expect our elected officials to see that they are not wasted.
Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, which describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan budget watchdog based in Washington, D.C.