Interior Department Rolls Back Methane Rules For Oil And Gas

Sep 19, 2018

Credit United States Department of the Interior

The Interior Department has released its final plan to rollback a rule limiting methane emissions from oil and gas producers. This follows the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) move last week to weaken its own methane protections.

The 2016 Waste Prevention Rule required leak detection and repair equipment, more frequent inspections, and a reduction in flaring, or burning off excess methane gas. In this new rule, all of those requirements have been weakened or removed.

The original Interior Department methane rule was more expansive than the EPA’s, it required changes not only from new wells, but existing ones on federal and tribal lands. That’s still true.

Jonathan Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the stronger rules aren’t just about air quality. They also help the countries bottom line.

“Methane that escapes into the air is natural gas that they aren't collecting royalty revenue off of and that’s a big problem.” He said, "we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars a year."

A 2013 study from ICF International found $330 million worth of natural gas was vented, burned off, or leaked natural gas.

But the Interior Department says the cost of the Obama-era rule exceeded its benefits and that the rules were duplicative, hurting states and tribes. In its final rule, the report says the department should leave regulation of air emissions to the EPA. 

There will be a 60 day fuse before the new rule goes into effect.