Pamela King, E&E News reporter
Published: Friday, January 27, 2017
A group of companies with a financial stake in the Obama administration’s strategy to reduce emissions on public lands are sounding the alarm on President Trump’s likely attempt to walk back the Bureau of Land Management’s methane rule.
GOP lawmakers appear poised to strike down the BLM action to curb natural gas flaring, venting and leakage from oil and gas production on public and tribal lands. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said legislators could invoke the Congressional Review Act, which authorizes a simple majority in both chambers to overrule federal regulations enacted within the last 60 legislative days (Greenwire, Jan. 25).
Firms that help operators detect and repair the gas leaks the BLM rule targets were surprised by industry replies that federal oversight on methane would kill jobs and cut profits.
Maintenance workers who can patch oil field and pipeline breaches will be in high demand under the BLM plan, Allison Sawyer, CEO of Rebellion Photonics, a company that creates tools to pinpoint leaks, said yesterday on a conference call to reporters.
“If you’re trying to create good, blue-collar manufacturing jobs that can never be exported, this seems like a home run,” Sawyer said.
There are also economic benefits to methane capture, said Jason Libersky, co-founder and CEO of the engineering and analytics firm Quantigy. One client has saved $1.7 million to $2.2 million per year by collecting and selling methane, rather than allowing the gas to escape to the atmosphere, he said, noting that savings vary based on producer and location.
“Before utilizing contractors to go out there and repair issues, we also have huge cost savings for the end user, and that’s on top of the environmental impact we have,” said Craig O’Neill, senior district sales manager at FLIR Systems.
The economics of methane capture would be more favorable to industry if federal regulators didn’t step into the process, said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, a regional trade association.
Sawyer, Libersky and O’Neill spoke yesterday on a conference call led by the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions (CMES), a coalition Sgamma says has “confused” some companies into believing federal methane regulations are the path to increased market share.
“The vast majority of the industry — including the majority of companies who develop methane capture technology — are not likewise confused,” Sgamma said. “They understand that companies already have an incentive to capture as much methane as possible because it’s the very product they sell. Those companies, unlike members of CMES, understand that the best way to gain market share is to develop products that capture more methane more economically than their competitors, not by advocating for federal regulation that is less efficient and emphasizes red tape over real solutions.”
The Western Energy Alliance has helped spearhead legal opposition to BLM’s methane regulations. The U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming last week denied a request by the alliance and other parties to stop implementation of the rule (Energywire, Jan. 17).
On January 9, 2017, the City of Moab issue a letter to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) thanking them for the hard work completed in developing the Moab Master Leasing Plan Final Environmental Assessment (FEIS).
The City’s letter noted that “[t]ourism and recreation plays a keystone role in our local economy” and that “recreation on BLM lands alone would generate upwards of $761 million in economic activity over the next 15 years and support over 1,000 jobs.” The Final Moab MLP ensures “healthy public lands and a strong vision toward balance is key for economic future of Moab businesses and the quality of life for Moab’s residents.” In addition to applauding the BLM’s final plan, the City of Moab also praised the agency’s process in incorporating a wide range of stakeholders and including the City every step of the way.
The Moab MLP “benefitted significantly from early collaboration during roundtable discussions hosted by our Mayor with attendance and comments from Grand County, SITLA, the National Park Service and many other stakeholders… Your office should also be commended for continuing dialogue among local stakeholders about how public lands should be managed. The BLM clearly listened to what local stakeholders had to say.”
The City also urged the BLM to “implement the strongest plan possible to protect tourism and recreation values on our public lands and rivers while facilitating the responsible development of oil and gas drilling and potash mining. Accordingly, we believe this FEIS provides the right direction to strike a balance between conservation and development.”
Some Members of Congress are proposing the use of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), an extreme action that would prohibit the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from ever taking action again to cut natural gas waste and pollution on public lands.
While natural gas production provides important energy and economic benefits, methane emissions from gas production contributes to climate change by depleting the ozone layer at a rate 20 times faster than carbon dioxide causing significant health concerns. Annual methane emissions on federal lands in 2012 equaled the annual emissions from 42 million cars. This waste short-changes taxpayers who lose as much as $23 million in annual federal royalty payments. A reduction in methane emissions would benefit oil and gas producers; the EPA says 40% of the gas lost could be captured and sold with currently available technologies.
Every year, $330 million-worth of natural gas is wasted through the deliberate burning and venting of natural gas as well as from leaky equipment and infrastructure. This costs the American taxpayer tens of millions in tax dollars that would go to the states and federal treasury. In fact, one study found that taxpayers would lose $800 million over ten years if nothing is done to stop natural gas waste
Jobs and money are needlessly going up in flames. While the energy sector is booming, oil and gas companies are losing profits and missing job-creating opportunities by treating methane as a waste product. Methane venting/flaring not only wastes a valuable resource, it also adds an extremely harmful pollutant/greenhouse gas to the air we breathe.
The BLM rule updates decades-old standards to reduce waste from oil and gas wells. Reducing methane emissions is a powerful way to support local economies with an abundant source of energy that generates revenue and improves public health and safety. Yet some members of Congress have launched legislation to roll back a recently-adopted BLM rule to cut natural gas waste and pollution from oil and gas development on public lands. Congress’s effort to rollback the rule would allow the waste of America’s energy resources and more pollution such as ozone that can trigger asthma attacks and worsen emphysema. The BLM’s Natural Gas Waste Rule is widely supported by local officials, businesses, landowners, Latino organizations, taxpayer groups, and others across the U.S.
We can stop the reckless use of the CRA to kill this much-needed rule if a majority of Senators will vote against using the Congressional Review Act to eliminate the BLM’s Natural Gas Waste Rule.
Please call your US Senator and tell them your name and where you live (they need to know you’re a constituent), and urge them to oppose voting for the CRA as a tool to kill the BLM’s Natural Gas (Methane) Waste Rule. Give them some reasons why this long-overdue rule is needed:
Usable natural gas that is currently wasted through venting and flaring—due to inadequate infrastructure—can and should be captured for future use
This updated BLM methane rule is a sound economic and public health strategy because reducing methane emissions means capturing valuable fuel that is otherwise wasted and reducing other harmful pollutants—a win for both public health and the economy.
Please call your US Senator (details here http://bit.ly/2itOCuC) especially if your are from the following states:
|Priority Senators||DC Office Number||Main District Office Number|
|Senator Gardner (CO)||202-224-5941||303-391-5777 (Denver)|
|Senator Portman (OH)||202-224-3353||614-469-6774 (Columbus)|
|Senator Donnelly (IN)||202-224-4814||317-554-0750 (Indianapolis)|
|Senator Graham (SC)||202-224-5972||864-250-1417 (Greenville)|
|Senator Heller (NV)||202-224-6244||702-388-5020 (Las Vegas)|
|Senator Collins (ME)||202-224-2523||207-622-8414 (Augusta)|
|Senator Alexander (TN)||202-224-4944||615-736-5129 (Nashville)|
|Senator Manchin (WV)||202-224-3954||304-342-5855 (Charleston)|
|Senator Flake (AZ)||202-224-4521||602-840-4092 (Phoenix)|
|Senator McCain (AZ)||202-224-2235||602-952-2410 (Phoenix)|
Across the nation, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field offices and the local communities they serve are working together to enact smart-from-the-start planning to eliminate conflicts between resource extraction and recreation development. Master Leasing Plans (MLP), such as the Moab MLP and proposed Tres Rios MLP, are one example of this planning.
Another shining example of the partnership between the BLM and its community occurred recently in Lander, Wyo. This year, Johnny Behind the Rocks, a popular mountain bike area, was proposed to be withdrawn from hard rock mining in an effort to protect and develop the area for recreation. Land in Wyoming is sometimes protected from resource extraction development for wildlife and other environmental issues; however, it is somewhat unusual for land to be protected for recreation purposes.
“We were very fortunate because our oil and gas potential is very concentrated geographically,” said Kristin Yannone, a planner with the Lander Field Office. “It’s been developed for the better part of a hundred years, so we knew where it was and where development was likely to go in the future.”
Because the area’s mineral development was only in specific areas, it was easier to show how withdrawing the Johnny Behind the Rocks area wouldn’t have a large impact on mining, Yannone says.
The public, Yannone says, was enthusiastically behind the plan to protect and enhance recreation at Johnny Behind the Rocks area.
“I think that the public latched on to the notion that the Johnny Behind the Rock protections were part of a land use plan that balances mineral development with recreation and protections for wildlife, cultural properties, and viewshed,” she says.
Jared Oakleaf, Outdoor Recreation Planner with the Lander Field Office, says the public has been the driving force behind the Johnny Behind the Rocks area.
“It kind of was born of the general network of cow trails and a desire for the community to have more and maintain those trails,” Oakleaf says. “And from that we started pushing the idea of maintenance and the community really took to that.”
Rio Rose, owner of the Bike Mill in Lander, has been riding the Johnny Behind the Rocks area for years. Along with the Lander Cycling Club and some individuals from the community, he began working on updating and expanding the trail system around 2008.
“The BLM has been quite cooperative,” Rose says.“There’s the typical slow process and red tape…but we still managed to do a lot of work on the trail system, and get a lot dialed in on sustainability and a flowy-er trail.”
Rose says one of the biggest challenges facing the Johnny Behind the Rocks project was getting all the necessary planning and approval steps completed.
“Time has really been the most difficult, keeping the momentum going,” he says. “If we go one summer without any new projects going on out there, we really lose motivation in the community.”
Another potential challenge was the local Fremont County officials, who were hesitant to set a precedent of restricting resource extraction development in favor of recreation. Initially, the county seemed supportive of the plan to withdraw mineral rights, but had some second thoughts later on.
“We got wind of it, thankfully,” says Julie Fairbank, president of the Lander Cycling Club. “We had a meeting with a county commissioner, the local bike shop owners, some reps for local cycling club, and we said, ‘let’s just talk this out.’”
Yannone cites the strong public comment in favor of the plan as a deciding factor with the local government.
“The extensive community involvement and investment that had already been committed to the project was part of justification for Johnny Behind the Rocks,” Yannone says. “Part of the economic basis was people like the bike shops saying, ‘my business depends on this.’”
The hallmark of the Johnny Behind the Rocks story, Oakleaf says, is the public’s desire to see the area protected for recreation.
“In the recreation program here in Lander, there are two of us who work full time on recreation resources in the 2.4 million acres we manage in the Lander area,” Oakleaf said. “Without community involvement the reality of a trail system just wouldn’t be possible. We are reliant on the community to help us achieve the things they want to see.
And Johnny Behind the Rocks isn’t finished yet. Oakleaf, Fairbank, and Rose all cite a future Master Trails Plan in the works for the area, which was created during a visit from the International Mountain Bike Association a few years ago.
Rose says the trails plan will be refined this winter, then submitted to the BLM for long term planning.
“There’s a pretty awesome map of trails that can be put in,” Fairbank says.
Once again, the Lander BLM will be looking to the local community for input moving forward, Oakleaf says.
“Make no bones about it, we’re going to be very dependent on the community to build that network when it comes down to putting shovel to dirt,” he says.
Yannone also highlights another future project in the Lander area.
“We have an area we are starting to work with the public to plan uses that could be as big as 100,000 acres,” she says. “It contains an important historic district, a gold mine district and an existing State of Wyoming Park and Historic Site.”
Yannone says the BLM will be outreaching to the community about this area, similar to how it engaged on Johnny Behind the Rocks.
“We’ll be asking how we should be managing [the site],” she says. “There are historical structures, reconstructed mines, really wonderful historic areas that have been preserved…we need input from people on how they would like to see the landscape address recreation.”
Yannone says the area could be developed for motorized and hiking trails.
“It really comes down to: how does the public want to use this land?” she says.
Ashley Korenblat, Managing Director for Public Land Solutions, recently accompanied two outdoor industry business leaders to Washington, DC to present the Outdoor Industry Business Letter on Energy Reform, which was signed by 30 of the biggest outdoor companies in the nation.
Ashley, along with Aspen Skiing Company’s Auden Schendler (center) and Andrew Baxley (right) of Osprey Packs, met with officials such as Neil Kornze, Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy to give them the letter, which applauded the administration’s continued efforts to make energy development safe, productive, and efficient.
Specifically, the group focused on five categories presented in the letter: the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on coal; renewable energies; the Stream Protection Rule; Master Leasing Plans for oil and gas; and the upcoming Methane Rule.
The Obama administration has demonstrated its commitment to developing strong energy regulations that ensure a fair return for taxpayers, as well as keep energy development from impacting other industries negatively. This is especially important in the Western states, where recreation is growing as a stable economic driver, in addition to the energy industries. As recreation continues to grow, using smart-from-the-start planning for energies and resource extraction will become even more important. Smart planning will also be vital as the population, and therefore demand, grows. Public Land Solutions, and our partners, are extremely grateful for the hard work and collaboration from this administration on energy reform.
Download the letter here: outdoor-biz-letter-on-energy-reforms-9-26-16
The hallmark of any successful policy is continuous evaluation and, if necessary, reform. The federal coal leasing program has not gone through a programmatic review in more than 30 years, and we applaud the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for pausing federal coal leases and taking this necessary step to ensure our public lands are managed appropriately. In particular we support reforms to the federal coal leasing program that ensure taxpayers receive a fair return for the sale of our public resources, and that efficient and targeted regulations protect today’s economy and reflect a current understanding of environmental and public health impacts from coal. As part of this initiative, we acknowledge that this pause in new coal leasing while the program is being reviewed allows for continued mining of coal under existing federal leases.
See our comment letter: Public Land Solutions Support for Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on the Federal Coal Program (PLS Coal PEIS Comment)
Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Kevin McCarthy (R-California) recently sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel calling on her to halt efforts to finalize the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s draft rule that would cut natural gas waste by limiting flaring and venting and ensuring modern technologies are used to address leaky equipment for oil and gas wells on public and tribal lands.
That’s troubling for those of us who live, work, and recreate on public lands in Utah and throughout the West. Addressing methane pollution from oil and gas operations isn’t just good for the oil and gas industry. It’s also a win for Utah’s outdoor recreation economy.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation supports $12 billion in economic activity, creates more than 122,000 direct jobs, and generates more than $850 million in state and local tax revenue in Utah. Simply put, outdoor recreation is big business.
That business depends on having a healthy landscape and a strong brand. Each year, people from across the U.S. and from other countries visit Utah’s “Might Five,” but dangerous air quality such as ground-level ozone events from methane waste are scaring visitors off and this loss of revenue hurts Utah’s economy. One industry-funded study found that as much as 98 percent of ozone pollution in the Uintah Basin comes from oil and gas development.
Moreover, the BLM doesn’t assess a royalty for natural gas that is wasted on public lands, costing us millions of dollars each year in royalty revenue. One study found that Utah lost upwards of $31 million in tax revenue over a five-year period because of natural gas waste on federal lands in Utah.
The Bishop-McCarthy letter claims that methane emissions, the primary component of natural gas, have dropped since 2005. Well, that’s true only if you look at a small slice of the pie.
The simple truth is that methane emissions are actually up 8 percent if you look at both oil and natural gas systems. And since well sites will often produce both oil and natural gas, creating a distinction between the two does not have much merit.
The letter also argues that the BLM does not have authority to address methane emissions, this despite the fact that cutting methane means more natural gas can be brought to market. The BLM is clearly tasked with preventing the waste of oil and gas resources developed on public lands.
A recent Government Accountability Office report found that the BLM is currently unable to effectively account for the trend of methane wasted on public lands, as emissions are not accurately assessed. There is a clear need for the BLM to step up and ensure we are not squandering a public resource.
The good news is that we have a win-win in front of us. Cutting methane waste will help clean up Utah’s air, protect the Utah Brand, encourage recreation businesses to continue investing in our state, and generate additional tax revenue for our state.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced today the Final Moab Master Leasing Plan that will bring balanced zoning for oil, gas and potash development in and around the Moab area, including the federal lands between Arches and Canyonlands national parks. Master leasing plans are the BLM’s most effective tool to keep up with our changing and growing economy. Because they are prepared with local communities, stakeholders and businesses, they represent a shared, collaborative vision for how our public lands should be managed. This breakthrough leasing plan for the Moab area is the result of years of cooperation between a wide range of local and regional stakeholders, the Department of the Interior (DOI), and state and local officials.
The Moab Master Leasing Plan “takes a landscape-level approach to balancing the protection of the iconic scenery in and around Moab and access to the rich energy resources found there,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “As the first Master Leasing Plan in Utah, the collaborative process that led to the proposed plan should serve as a model for how communities can work together to balance development with the protection of world-class environmental, cultural and recreational resources.”
The Moab MLP has been touted as the blueprint for stakeholder engagement during the years-long planning process. Participants in the Moab MLP came from a wide range of interests for stakeholder meetings to discuss their land use priorities, including representatives from the recreation community, industries such as oil and gas and potash, local elected officials, environmental groups, and more. Together, local and regional stakeholders crafted a plan that will contribute to the economic prosperity of southeastern Utah for years to come. The result is a balanced plan that protects recreation opportunities and cultural resources while also allowing for resource extraction where appropriate.
“Public lands are immensely important to the Moab outdoor recreation economy,” said Ashley Korenblat from Public Land Solutions, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing comprehensive recreation planning and stakeholder coordination to support effective and sustainable public land solutions. “Our city welcomes visitors from around the world that come here to raft, jeep, hike, bike and climb among the amazing landscapes. We appreciate the UT BLM being a good neighbor and working with local stakeholders to move forward with the master leasing plan. This effort is a model for the nation.”
By identifying the right places to develop and balancing future development with the needs of the local community, the Moab Master Leasing Plan will ensure that our lands are working for the benefit the local economy, western families and our communities. The Moab MLP will also help energy companies by identifying and resolving conflicts at the outset, helping to avoid lengthy delays on the back-end. This smart-from-the-start approach provides needed certainty not only for the energy industry, but for all users of our public lands. “Balance is essential,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze. “In this plan we make sure that southern Utah’s energy resources can be responsibly accessed while also ensuring that Moab’s recreation economy can continue to flourish.”
Copies of the Final EIS are available online and will ultimately be available at the BLM Utah State Office in Salt Lake City, the Canyon Country District Office in Moab, and the Monticello Field Office in Monticello.