WASHINGTON – La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt voiced support for the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed natural gas waste rule on Wednesday during a congressional hearing.
“In my county, we have more than 3,300 wells, with many of them on tribal and public land, and tens of thousands of additional wells across the state line in New Mexico,” Lachelt told the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.
“While oil and gas development can provide jobs for our residents, we must ensure it is done in a safe and responsible manner. We cannot allow the waste of these resources, which belong to all Americans.”
The BLM’s proposed rule would limit the amount of methane and other natural gases lost from venting, flaring and leaking from oil and gas operations on public and Indian lands.
In announcing the rule in February, the Department of the Interior reported that the amount of natural gas lost between 2009 and 2014 could power more than 5 millions homes for a year, with states, Indian tribes and the federal government losing as much as $23 million in annual royalty revenues.
But opponents of the BLM’s rule view it as an overly constraining regulation on the oil and gas industry.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., the chairman of the subcommittee, began the hearing by referring to the proposed rule as “unnecessary and redundant,” saying that it would particularly impact local communities reliant on the natural gas industry.
“In 2014 alone, the oil and gas industry contributed $31.7 billion to Colorado’s economy, providing over 100,000 direct and indirect jobs,” Lamborn said during opening remarks.
He referred to Colorado’s Regulation 7, which curtails methane emissions, as an example of how state and industry leaders are working to surpass the standards that the BLM’s proposed rule would enforce.
“These regulations have been extremely successful,” Lamborn said. “That is why this one-size-fits-all approach from a heavy-handed Washington federal regulator is a problem.”
But Lachelt told the committee members it was unacceptable “that we currently allow the unfettered venting and flaring of natural gases,” adding that the administration’s rule would return more money to state and federal coffers.
Although Colorado has taken steps to limit methane emissions, Lachelt said that operations in neighboring states affect La Plata County and the Four Corners. She said that a more streamlined approach from the government would ensure that the regulations are “not governed ad hoc” by the states.
“In the San Juan Basin of northwest New Mexico and Southwest Colorado, where I live, we have about 40,000 oil and gas wells,” Lachelt said. “According to NOAA and NASA, our region is home to the highest concentrations of atmospheric methane in the country.”
When asked by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., about how enforcement of the state’s methane emissions regulation and inspection of sites was handled, Lachelt cited a recent study from the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions that showed that operators conducted many of their own sites inspections and found leaks almost 90 percent of the time.
She said the BLM could improve the proposed methane rule with better communication and oversight aspects of its regulation.
“I think with the vast number of wells on federal lands, we would need to see a partnership between operators and the agency to make sure adequate oversight is occurring to enforce this rule,” Lachelt said.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Edward Graham is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.