A resolution supporting proposed Bureau of Land Management regulations to cut back on natural gas waste was approved 2-1 Tuesday by La Plata County commissioners.
The rule, which would replace regulations more than 30 years old, would reduce waste from venting, flaring and leaks during oil and gas production on federal and tribal lands. Also, it would define when waste is subject to royalties. Proponents assume recaptured natural gas would generate new revenue for the state, which loses an estimated $26 million in gas annually.
Dan Olson, executive director of San Juan Citizens Alliance, said the policy is a “no-brainer” from both a revenue and energy perspective.
“This is asking the industry to deploy the best practice to stop the waste of natural resources, and the technology could create jobs through its implementation,” Olson said. “As a community, we get black eye after black eye: the Gold King spill, the methane “hot spot” (a methane cloud that hangs over the Four Corners). It is going to counter the other aspects I think our county wants to promote: lifestyle, recreation and other ways we develop economically. This rule could do a world of good.”
The Department of the Interior published the rule, which would apply to about 10,000 onshore oil and gas wells, in the Federal Register in February. The BLM estimates the rule could cut methane emissions by about 166,000 tons per year.
Residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting favored the resolution, including Dan Randolph, who said responsible companies are already operating in check and working to cut emissions.
“This is not new technology, or a new cost for the better operator,” he said. “By addressing methane leaks, we’re controlling pollution and health issues. This rule is very moderate and very necessary.”
Christi Zeller, executive director of the La Plata County Energy Council, opposed the resolution, saying the rule is backed by faulty data, and if implemented, will deter exploration and lead to increased costs for operators.
She also questioned the point of a resolution after the window for public comments ended in April.
Commissioner Gwen Lachelt traveled to Washington this spring to voice support for the rule during a congressional hearing. She said BLM staff encouraged counties and other jurisdictions to weigh in, even after the public comment period.
She and Commissioner Julie Westendorff approved the resolution with an alteration to say that they support the rule on the condition that they do not conflict with tribal or other federal regulations.
Commissioner Brad Blake, the sole dissenter, was concerned the rule might hamstring future development.
“Waste of a public resource should be discouraged, and that there are health benefits to those of us in the airshed of a lot of wells I think is a real bonus you don’t often get,” Westendorff said. “If the rules aren’t there, an operator may not take the steps that are needed.”