Methane and the Midterms: What it All Means

The hot energy topic on everyone’s minds post-midterms right now is one that many of us are all too familiar with: the Keystone XL Pipeline. Both the House and Senate called for votes on the bill and it passed the House last week, failing by one vote in the Senate and making it clear that this is going to be a big issue for the next Congress.

But what about the rest of the country’s energy policy? In the broader topic of energy, the proceedings of the next two years aren’t so cut and dry. Americans elected a lot of pro-industry members to Congress in these midterms, which has some folks worried that this Congressional make-up could spell trouble for a lot of the energy reforms and pro-environmental policies that have passed in the last six years.

A clear path to success on both sides of the aisle: the BLM waste rule

One place where there shouldn’t be any cause for concern, however, is the Bureau of Land Management’s rule to limit the practice of venting and flaring natural gas on public lands. This rule has been in the works for the better part of year now, and in that time period a number of diverse constituents have voiced their support for such a rule. In fact, a poll conducted in late September by the Benenson Strategies Group reported that nearly 70% of likely voters in Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Utah “support a rule that would require oil companies to significantly reduce the amount of natural gas they release or burn off into the air when they extract oil from public lands.”

And better yet, the clear strong support for this BLM waste rule is bipartisan, proving that people on either side of the aisle oppose the current waste of both resources and taxpayer dollars. The widespread popularity of these limits comes with the support of 80% of Democrats, 72% of Independents and 57% of Republicans.

Which makes sense—especially given that right now, many oil and gas companies are able to literally burn this natural gas up into the atmosphere with no consequences to them. That’s our taxpayer dollars going up in flames, since there are no royalties paid on the gas that is vented or flared. Just last week, Taxpayers for Common Sense released a report stating that federal taxpayers lost more than $380 million from 2006-2013 in waived royalties on gas extracted from onshore federal leases.

Because of strong bipartisan support for this rule, it shouldn’t face the same sort of polarized gridlock we’re seeing on other issues in Congress right now (again, take for example the Keystone XL pipeline, where it’s essentially a divide down party lines). And that’s because of the common sense limits on waste that this rule proposes.

Not only is the rule anti-waste, it’s pro-energy

What’s more, this BLM’s waste rule for methane is pro-energy—instead of allowing the waste of a valuable resource, it encourages energy companies to capture that natural gas. Which is huge, given that in a winter where people froze to death because of propane shortages, industry still vented or flared enough natural gas to meet the needs of a city the size of Chicago.

But limits on venting and flaring means more profits and more royalties—a win-win situation, which is something this next Congress will be looking for. A 2010 report from the GAO estimated that at that point in time, over 40% of the gas vented and flared could be economically captured and sold, and with advances in technology since that point, that percentage has only grown.

The rule also encourages control of energy resources at the local level—another winning policy with this current Congressional make-up. It’s not about letting a government far away in Washington regulate—it’s about letting western communities get the payback they deserve on their resources, and not subject them to the adverse effects of oil and gas productions without ensuring they see the pay-off.

This rule is a win-win-win for Congress, the Administration, and westerners. The question is—will this new Congress be able to see the forest for the trees and support this bipartisan rule? Westerners have spoken, and all the groundwork has been laid. All that needs to be done now is for the government to act and promulgate this strong rule, supporting western economies and sustaining our western way of life.

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