BLM 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 is often vented or flared during oil and gas extraction and production and can leak from production equipment. The Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Land Management published the Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservationrule (Waste Prevention Rule) in 2016 to “reduce the waste of natural gas from flaring, venting, and leaks from oil and gas production operations on public and Indian lands.”

The rule addressed venting and flaring of associated gas from oil wells by limiting venting to cases of emergencies or when flaring is technically infeasible, and requiring operators to capture a percentage of the gas they would otherwise flare for sale or use. It also required operators to regularly inspect well sites and compression stations for leaks, using an instrument-based approach, and to quickly address leaks found. The rule required operators to replace high-bleed pneumatic controllers and certain pneumatic pumps with equipment that vents less or no gas and to take other measures to avoid emissions from this equipment. It also required operators to recover gas vented from storage vessels or route it to a flare or combustor, and to take measures to minimize venting from downhole well maintenance and liquids unloading as well as to capture, use, flare, or inject gas released during drilling and completions.

The Waste Prevention Rule would 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 (gas whose loss was avoidable). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) estimated the rule would save enough methane to supply around 740,000 households each year. The rule had several rounds of compliance dates for different parts of the rule

Current Status

The Waste Prevention Rule, promulgated in 2016 by the Obama Administration’s Department of the Interior, has spawned a series of cases and multiple efforts by the Trump Administration to delay or roll back its provisions. In December 2017 BLM published a final rule suspending the 2018 compliance dates of the rule until 2019 (the Suspension Rule). This followed an earlier effort to delay those compliance dates by merely noticing the postponement in the Federal Register. On February 22, 2018 BLM published a proposal (the Revision Rule) to replace the 2016 Waste Prevention Rule. The Revision Rule proposes returning to the pre-2016 rule standards, which date from the 1970s.

Four cases related to the Waste Prevention Rule and the Administration’s efforts to delay, suspend, or roll it back have been brought to date:

  • Wyoming v. U.S. Dep’t of the Interior, No. 2:16-CV-00285 consolidated with Western Energy Alliance, et al. v. Sally Jewell, 2:16-CV-0280. (D. Wyo.) — challenging the original Waste Prevention Rule,
  • California and New Mexico v. Zinke, No. 3:17-CV-03804 consolidated with Sierra Club et al., v. Zinke. No. 3:17-CV-03885 (N.D. Cal.) — challenging BLM’s June 15, 2017 notification of postponement of the rule’s compliance dates,
  • California and New Mexico v. BLM, No .3:17-cv-07186 consolidated with Sierra Club et al v. BLM 3:17-cv-07187 (N.D. Cal.) — challenging BLMs December 8, 2017 Suspension Rule delaying the Waste Prevention Rule’s 2018 compliance dates, and
  • EDF v. Dept. of Interior, No. 1:18-cv-01116 (D.D.C) -– a FOIA suit against BLM regarding requested documents relating to its efforts to delay, suspend, and rollback the Waste Prevention Rule.

In the Wyoming v. U.S. Dep’t of the Interior case, an April 4, 2018 ruling by the District of Wyoming staying implementation of key provisions of the Waste Prevention Rule and staying the litigation pending completion of BLM’s Revision Rule rulemaking process was recently appealed to the Tenth Circuit. On June 4, 2018, The Tenth Circuit denied a request to stay the April 4th order pending its consideration of the appeal and denied requests to dismiss the appeal of the April 4th order altogether. Merits briefing has proceeding in the appeal and on July 30, 2018 appellants (environmental groups and the states of California and New Mexico) filed their brief asking the court to overturn the District Court’s April 4th ruling.

The California and New Mexico v. Zinke and Sierra Club et al. v. Zinke case is complete having found BLM’s June 15, 2017 notice of postponement of the compliance dates in the Waste Prevention Rule unlawful under the APA. The BLM asked the Ninth Circuit to voluntarily dismiss its appeal, a motion that was granted on March 15, 2018.

In the California and New Mexico v. BLM and Sierra Club et al. v. BLM cases on June 20, 2018 BLM filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss its April 23, 2018 appeal in the Ninth Circuit seeking to overturn the Northern District of California’s February 22, 2018 preliminary injunction against BLM’s Suspension Rule.

In the most recently filed case (EDF v. Dept. of Interior), EDF sued the Department of Interior on May 11, 2018 alleging BLM failed to properly respond to a Freedom of Information Act request to produce records related to its “efforts to suspend, delay, repeal and/or revise” the Waste Prevention Rule.

Click here learn more about the history of this rule and the latest updates.

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