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New federal rules zero in on the oil and gas industry

An oil well in front of golden grassy bluffs.
BLM Wyoming
Flickr via CC BY 2.0

New federal rules aim to lower methane pollution, a top contributor to climate change, from oil and gas production. The industry says this could have sweeping impacts on Wyoming.

The new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules will require technology to prevent methane leaks and more monitoring of sites to check for leaks, both on new and existing oil and gas infrastructure. The hope is it will reduce methane emissions by 80 percent from what they would otherwise be in 2038.

“In the past, these rules have only really addressed at the federal level new wells,” Jon Goldstein, senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund. “So it’s a comprehensive approach that will not only address new wells, but also the thousands and thousands of existing wells that are already out there in places like Wyoming.”

These are things that are actually already happening near Pinedale, in the Upper Green River Basin. In the early 2000s, the air quality there was worse than in L.A. because of high ozone levels. They were elevated for several reasons, but one was methane emissions from the nearby gas fields. Goldstein said the state and industry made big strides to fix it, and the air quality has improved.

“We want to see those kinds of approaches taken across the country so that other areas that haven't acted can benefit from cleaner air and less pollution,” he said.

But, the industry fears that only large companies can afford to do put in monitoring equipment. And that the 300 smaller operators in the state will be put out of business.

“Just the technical and complicated nature of this and trying to retrofit some of these wells that may have to be shut down as the only option,” said Ryan McConnaughey, Petroleum Association of Wyoming’s Vice President.

McConnaughey also pointed to the success in the Upper Green River Basin natural gas fields and even efforts in the Powder River Basin for monitoring methane. He doesn’t think the federal government’s requirements are necessary.

“Their goal is to shut down oil and gas operations on federal lands,” he said.

Notably, BP, a larger oil company that formerly operated the Jonah Field in the Upper Green River Basin, is in support of the new rule.

"BP welcomes the finalization of a federal methane rule for new, modified and – for the first time – existing sources," Orlando Alvarez, chairman and president of BP America, said in NPR reporting.

The logistics of implementing these new rules will be ironed out in the coming months and legal challenges are expected.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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