Methane Waste Prevention Rule

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following. If you’re a reporter and would like to speak with an expert on this rule please email us.

Why it Matters

Methane, the main component of natural gas, not only is flared during oil and gas production, but it also leaks from oil and gas production equipment. This rule was created to “reduce the waste of natural gas from flaring, venting, and leaks from oil and gas production operations on public and Indian lands.” Designed to reduce natural gas waste, this rule would also achieve lower greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas production, while providing “a fair return on public resources for federal taxpayers” by requiring operators to pay royalties on wasted gas. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) estimates the rule can save enough methane to supply around 740,000 households each year.

Current Status

In December, 2017 BLM published a final rule suspending the 2018 provisions of the rule until 2019; New Mexico and California, among others sued BLM over this new delay. On February 22, 2018 the Northern District of California overturned BLM’s suspension of the rule, saying that BLM must enforce the it, putting the rule fully into effect. Industry groups asked the the US District Court for the District of Wyoming to freeze parts the rule. On April 4, 2018 the Wyoming agreed to suspend key provisions of the rule, and California, New Mexico, and environmental groups have appealed the Wyoming decision to the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals and have asked the District of Wyoming to stay its decision while they wait for the Appeals court to act.

Also on February 22, 2018 BLM published a proposal to replace the 2016 Oil and Gas Waste Prevention Rule. It proposes returning to the pre-2016 rule standards, which date from the 1970s. The proposal was published in the Federal Register on February 22, 2018 and the comment period is open through April 23, 2018.

History

On November 18, 2016 the BLM published its Oil and Gas Waste Prevention Rule. Some provisions were to take effect January 17, 2017; a few were to take effect January 17, 2018.

Three days before publication (November 15, 2016), but after the rule was signed, industry and states filed challenges to the rule in the District of Wyoming.  – Wyoming v. U.S. Dep’t of the Interior, No. 2:16-CV-00285.

On January 17, 2017 the District of Wyoming denied a preliminary injunction (meaning the rule will remain in effect while it is being challenged).

Trump Era

On February 3, 2017 The US House of Representatives passed a Congressional Review Act resolution to disapprove the rule, which would have voided the rule and barred any other “substantially similar” rule in the future.

On March 28, 2017 President Trump’s Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth directed the BLM to review the rule.

On May 10, 2017 the US Senate voted down the House of Representatives’ Congressional Review Act resolution, with three Republicans voting no.

On June 15, 2017 BLM announced that is was postponing the 2018 compliance dates for an indefinite period of time (so long as litigation is pending), “pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act”.

On July 5, 2017 California and New Mexico challenged BLM’s postponement of the compliance dates. Five days later several environmental groups also challenged BLM’s postponement. –California and New Mexico v. Zinke, No. 3:17-CV-03804; EDF et al., v. Zinke. No. 3:17-CV-03885 (N.D. Cal.).

On October 4, 2017 the Northern District of California determined BLM’s June 15, 2017 postponement was unlawful, and the January 17, 2018 compliance date stands for the provisions that are to be phased in then. The court determined that BLM improperly used the Administrative Procedure Act to justify the postponing a rule that was already in effect.

On October 4, 2017 BLM formally proposed to delay the 2018 provisions of the rule until January 17th, 2019. 

On October 5, 2017 environmental groups sued BLM over the new proposed delay (from October 4, 2017). 

On October 27, 2017 industry groups asked the District of Wyoming to delay the January, 2018 deadlines (requesting a preliminary injunction).

On October 30, 2017 the District of Wyoming agreed to a Trump administration request to delay litigation as BLM goes through its rulemaking process to repeal, revise, or rescind the rule pursuant to Executive Order 13783.

On November 2, 2017 Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to Secretary Zinke opposing BLM’s attempts to repeal, revise, or rescind the rule.

In the last week of November, 2017 environmental groups filed a request with the District of Wyoming that the preliminary injunction requested by industry groups on October 27, 2017 be rejected

On December 4, 2017 BLM appealed the October 4, 2017 Northern District of California decision  — that the June, 2017 BLM delay was unlawful —  to the 9th Circuit.

On December 8, 2017 BLM published a final rule delaying the 2018 provisions until 2019, which it had proposed on October 4, 2017.

On December 19, 2017 New Mexico and California sued BLM over its December 8, 2017 final action which amends the methane rule’s 2018 compliance dates, delaying them to 2019. A coalition of environmental groups have also sued over the December 8 rule. Both lawsuits were filed in the District Court for the Northern District of California. California and New Mexico v. BLM 3:17-cv-07186 and Sierra Club et al v. BLM 3:17-cv-07187

On January 5, 2018 the American Petroleum Institute moved to intervene in the December 19 lawsuit, saying the rule would be economically damaging.

In the week of February 12, 2018 BLM released a proposed rule to replace the 2016 Oil and Gas Waste Prevention Rule. It proposes returning to the pre-2016 rule standards, which date from the 1970s, and rescinds the leak detection and repair provision. The proposal was published in the Federal Register on February 22, 2018 and the comment period is open through April 23, 2018.

On February 22, 2018 the Northern District of California overturned BLM’s suspension of the rule, saying that BLM must enforce it, putting the rule fully into effect. Industry groups asked the court to freeze parts the rule.

On March 7, 2018 U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming agreed to reopen industry and state challenges to the rule, which it had delayed in October, 2017 at the Trump administration’s request, but did not grant a freeze while it does so. Instead it will issue a decision at the end of March on the freeze.

On March 14, 2018 BLM asked the District of Wyoming to re-suspend the 2018 provisions of the rule, which the Northern District of California had overturned in February.

Also on March 14, 2018 BLM dropped its appeal of the October 4, 2017 ruling from the Northern District of California, when the court found that BLM had violated the Administrative Procedure Act by postponing 2018 compliance dates on for a rule that was already in effect

In late March, 2018 industry lawyers asked the District of Wyoming to suspend parts of the rule, saying compliance was impossible this quickly. BLM told E&E News that the agency expects  full compliance with all provisions, but industry lawyers say that the agency is not equipped to monitor compliance.

On April 4, 2018 the US District Court for the District of Wyoming agreed to suspend key provisions of the rule, which BLM and industry had requested in March, following the Northern District of California’s February 22 decision that BLM must enforce the rule, which put it fully into effect. California, New Mexico, and environmental groups have appealed the Wyoming decision to the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals and have asked the District of Wyoming to stay its decision while they wait for the Appeals court to act.

 For More Information

For more on the history of the Methane Rule see its entry in the Columbia University Sabin Center for Climate Change Law’s database. Also see Save EPA’s pages on these rollbacks here and here

 

HLS Student Orgs

Search Our Site

HLS Evironmental Law on Twitter