Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release: January 22, 2016

Contact: Bill Snape, (202) 536-9351,

Obama Administration's Public Land Methane Rules Too Little, Too Late

WASHINGTON— The Obama administration today proposed long-overdue rules to start regulating methane pollution from public lands oil and gas operations, rules that would do too little to limit emissions of this dangerously powerful greenhouse gas.

The Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rule follows a scathing Government Accountability Office report on wasted gas from public lands and a 2012 petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Air Task Force and the Western Environmental Law Center. It would be the agency’s first small steps toward controlling releases, leaks and wasteful burning of methane. Although methane is a marketable fuel, oil and gas operations frequently “vent” this potent greenhouse gas directly into the atmosphere or simply burn it off at the well site (a process called “flaring”).

BLM’s new proposed standards would generally bar venting (with a number of loopholes), reduce drillers’ ability to avoid paying royalties on gas they waste by flaring it, encourage monitoring and repair of methane leakage from oil and gas equipment and require replacement of leaky components.

“Although this long-overdue proposal is a positive step toward reducing the enormous methane pollution and waste that the oil industry is spewing from our public lands, it is too weak and riddled with unnecessary exemptions and loopholes,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity. “More important, the best way to prevent climate pollution from our public lands is to stop auctioning off these ecologically important areas to oil companies. If we are to have any hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, we simply must keep the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground.”

The proposed rules, however, are aimed solely at reducing lost royalties from wasted gas — not at addressing the underlying role of public lands methane and fossil fuels in contributing to dangerous global warming.

“This proposed rule primarily issues new policies, with exemptions galore, to reduce methane at the permitting stage of the operation, when drilling has already been approved,” said Snape. “While it begins to reduce some of the most absurd and massive forms of methane release, the standards are weak and will not prevent future significant methane emissions from oil and gas operations on BLM lands.”

Methane is a climate pollutant that heats the atmosphere 87 times more than the same mass of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. As a short-lived pollutant, reductions in methane are essential to avoid catastrophic climate-tipping elements and to comply with the U.S. commitment to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Methane also has important health implications: It is an ozone precursor that endangers public health. Experts warn that an overall methane leakage rate of greater than 2.8 percent can make burning natural gas in power plants more harmful to the climate than coal.

Federal fossil fuel auctions perpetuate a conflict between the Obama administration’s climate goals and its “all of the above” energy policy. Unleased federal fossil fuels — those that the president controls - should be considered “unburnable” in the context of global carbon budgets and  should be the first taken off the table to mitigate climate damage.

More than 400 organizations and leaders working on the “Keep It in the Ground” campaign have called on President Obama to end new federal fossil fuel leases following a report that doing so would keep up to 450 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution in the ground and that the president has the legal authority to do so now, without Congress. Those emissions would be incompatible with any reasonable U.S. share of global carbon budgets to avoid catastrophic warming.

Although the proposed BLM rule would capture the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of wasted methane, it does nothing to stop issuance of new leases for more drilling on public lands — drilling we cannot afford if we hope to maintain a livable planet for wildlife and future generations.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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