Guest column by Nancy Sorenson
(Opinion) – The Bureau of Land Management is meeting today in Lakewood, Colorado to discuss a proposed set of rules for methane and other natural gas waste due to flaring, venting, and leaks from federal oil and gas production. They are also accepting public comment on the proposal until April 8. These new standards are long overdue and would be necessary improvements to BLM’s management of publicly-owned lands and minerals in Wyoming and other western states.
My family owns a ranch in Campbell County that overlies federal minerals. For generations we’ve been good stewards of our land. We take that responsibility seriously as we know that our land is our ranch’s greatest asset, and we want to protect the value of that asset for generations to come. We likewise expect BLM and oil and gas companies to do their part to better protect our natural resources.
By reducing methane pollution, BLM’s proposed new standards would improve air quality on my ranch and in the region. But perhaps more importantly, the standards would improve accountability to American taxpayers — the true owners of these federal resources.
BLM’s new standards come down to simple dollars and cents. According to government estimates, each year oil and gas companies waste $330 million worth of natural gas through venting, flaring, and leaks of methane on public and tribal lands. That is enough natural gas to power 5.1 million homes and provide $23 million in royalty payments every year. With roughly half of the royalty revenue coming back to states like Wyoming, we can’t afford not to promote measures that prevent this waste. Federal mineral royalty revenue funds schools and needed community infrastructure improvements in Campbell County and across our state. Wyoming, like many states in our region, is facing strong budget cuts from revenue shortfalls. BLM’s new rules would help provide much-needed additional revenue in this critical time.
Taking these steps should not adversely affect oil and gas companies. In fact, the new rules should make dollars and cents for the company bottom lines, too. The BLM estimates the new standards create net benefits of $115 to $188 million dollars per year. These benefits include revenues for operators from the sale of recovered natural gas and environmental benefits from reducing emissions. Even with market-driven declines of production and revenue, the companies can afford to make these improvements. Our minerals can only be developed once, and we can’t afford to squander our publicly owned resources and tax revenue in good times or bad. These standards aren’t about kicking the industry while it’s down — they are about ensuring responsible development of our resources now and into the future.
BLM’s meeting follows recent updates to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s flaring and venting rules. While Wyoming’s rules made some improvements and will require companies to better justify why they should be allowed to flare or vent natural gas, they unfortunately did not go far enough to address this serious problem. BLM’s efforts are a needed next step to prevent natural gas waste of publicly owned minerals.
We can end natural gas waste from drilling operations while putting American energy to use, generating revenue, and creating jobs — and that is what a strong final natural gas waste rule can accomplish. That’s why it’s good policy for Wyoming and the nation.
— Nancy Sorenson lives on her family ranch in Campbell County,. She is a board member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, an organization that advocates for good stewardship and responsible development of our state’s mineral resources.
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