Congress could soon lock in the waste of natural gas from production on federal lands for decades to come.
The United States has the good fortune of having valuable reserves of natural gas located on our public lands.
These resources are owned by us all, and we deserve to have our federal government manage these resources so that they financially benefit every US taxpayer.
Yet instead of trying to fix the problem, Congress seems prepared to let our resources waste away, at the behest of oil and gas companies, all while taxpayers like you and me lose out.
The Bureau of Land Management is tasked with ensuring that public lands are used in a responsible way that benefits both the American people and our nation’s industries.
That duty includes accounting for all natural gas vented, flared, or leaked from production operations on our public lands.
With new technologies like hydraulic fracturing, natural gas extraction has increased substantially in the last decade.
The amount and value of natural gas wasted on BLM-managed lands has also increased to the tune of $444 million a year, which is worth $56 million in royalties back to taxpayers and Indian tribes.
The amount of wasted gas has increased in large part because the current rules regarding methane waste were crafted in 1979, long before modern drilling techniques like “fracking” even existed.
Faced with the current problem, the BLM began to update its policies to better fit the modern realities of the natural gas industry in 2011.
The BLM held four forums in 2014 in Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Washington, D.C, and received more than 300,000 comments on its proposed waste rule in 2016.
While not perfect, the rule is a start to getting us on the right track. But now Congress wants to repeal the entire rule with an obscure law known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA).
If it does, it will prevent the BLM from doing anything on the issue of wasted gas in the future, without another act of Congress.
Because of the gridlock and slow machinery of lawmaking, it could take years to pass a new law regulating methane waste on public lands – this translates to hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars being flushed down the drain. Taxpayers deserve better.
The BLM methane rule is not perfect – no rules are – but there are many avenues Congress can take to fix it instead of using the blunt axe of the Congressional Review Act.
The government has a chance to get more natural gas to the market and increase revenue for federal and state governments.
We hope that U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey (Republican) and Bob Casey (Democrat) stand up for taxpayers and oppose this effort to turn back clock on the methane waste.
Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group.