Reader View: Will Congress kill the methane rule?

May 9, 2017 GMT

As the Bureau of Land Management’s recently adopted rule to limit natural gas waste from the oil and gas industry hangs in limbo, it is imperative that our U.S. senators stand up for their constituents and oppose the use of the Congressional Review Act to kill the rule.

The Congressional Review Act is a blunt tool that, if successful, would prevent the implementation of any “substantially similar” rule, allowing the oil and natural gas industry to continue to waste hundreds of millions of dollars worth of taxpayer-owned resources every year and use outdated, wasteful technologies.

New Mexico U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both have stated their support for keeping the rule, but the Senate could vote to kill it.

While the BLM rule is pertinent to states across the U.S., it holds a special significance where I live, in the Four Corners area, which regretfully holds the title “methane hotspot.” In 2014, NASA and the University of Michigan released a report that found the Four Corners region, which includes parts of Northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, to have the highest concentration of methane in the U.S. Most of it is attributed to the San Juan Basin’s natural gas extraction industry.


Though Colorado has rules in place to limit and regulate methane venting and flaring, New Mexico — a hub for the energy industry — does not. With 35,000 oil and gas wells on public lands across the state line from my county, the BLM methane rule is the only hope for addressing the methane cloud.

Three years ago, Colorado became the first state to adopt a rule to cut down on methane waste and pollution. The rule had support from both environmental advocates and oil and gas operators, and did not curtail the industry. In fact, the state’s natural gas production increased by about 10 percent, oil production by 58 percent, and the number of oil and gas wells by more than 3 percent. Other states adopted similar methane-cutting rules, including Wyoming, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The benefits of the rule are not just environmental. A study released this month by Datu Research highlights how the methane leak detection and repair industry is creating well-paying jobs. Among the report’s key findings, at least 60 companies in the methane-reducing industry provide services to oil and gas operators in 45 states, and 37 percent of those businesses were founded within the past six years. Companies have experienced up to 30 percent business growth in states with methane regulations.

Moreover, reducing venting and flaring under the rule would generate as much as $23 million in royalties annually for the federal government and states that share that money, as well as more than $330 million worth of natural gas each year.

The rule has garnered strong bipartisan support among Western stakeholders who now urge their senators to support local governments, their constituents and taxpayers by opposing the Congressional Review Act. Since February, Western Leaders Network, a newly created nonprofit for local leaders throughout the interior West, has received signatures from 120 local and tribal elected officials in six Western states. The letter includes 14 New Mexico officials from Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces, Aztec and Bernalillo and Mora counties. All want Congress to keep the BLM rule — for the benefit of the environment, public health and Western economies.

Gwen Lachelt is commissioner of La Plata County, Colo., and executive director of the Western Leaders Network.