Senator’s pipeline worries missed the mark

Today, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso sent a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell regarding the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rule to reduce methane (the primary component of natural gas) emissions from oil and gas development on public and tribal lands. The proposed rule would limit venting and flaring after a certain time period and would require operators to identify methane leaks from equipment and subsequently fix the leaks.

Barrasso wrote in his letter, “While I support efforts to reduce unnecessary venting and flaring of natural gas, I’m concerned that the rule fails to address a principle reason for flaring: protracted delays in the permitting of natural gas gathering lines and related infrastructure…”

And while Barrasso’s commitment to reducing methane waste on federal lands is commendable, his primary concern regarding the rule is missing the mark.

Natural-Gas-Flare-Off-0071In 2014, Clean Air Task Force released a report on flaring of natural gas in North Dakota’s Bakken oil field and found that 57% of flared wells were already connected to a pipeline. The report also found that in 2013, industry flared 32% of all gas produced in the Bakken. You heard that right: Industry deliberately flared almost a third of all natural gas produced in the Bakken, even though more than half of all wells were connected to a pipeline that could transport the gas to market.

The same year, IFC International released a report finding that equipment leaks account for 30% of emissions. The report also estimated that with quarterly leak inspections and subsequent leak repair, emissions can be reduced by 60%. Furthermore, by replacing outdated equipment with cost-effective, already-available technologies, significant reductions in methane emissions during oil and gas development could be easily achieved. Nearly $330 million in natural gas waste is lost each year from federal and tribal lands— enough to supply 1.5 million homes. And over the next decade, $800 million is estimated to be lost in royalties from publicly owned lands.

Furthermore, a new peer-review study in Environmental Science and Technology used aerial surveys to sidebysideNMdetect methane emissions from oil and gas operations and found alarming rates of methane emissions pouring from equipment, specifically tank vents and hatches. The study cautioned that these emission sources may be missing from inventories and offered, “Tanks represent a key mitigation opportunity for reducing methane and VOC emissions.”

While Senator Barrasso faults delays in pipeline permitting as a major hindrance to enacting smart, common-sense legislation aimed at reducing methane waste, there’s much more to the story. Cost-effective technologies and appropriate front-end planning have been discounted for too long— to the detriment of American taxpayer’s pocketbooks and health.

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