A Colorado-inspired federal methane rule is now on the chopping block

An Extraction 12-well facility, in Greeley, CO.

The U.S. House of Representatives this morning passed a resolution to kill a Bureau of Land Management rule that prevents oil and gas operations on public lands from flaring or venting valuable methane gas, a known contributor to global warming.

Eliminating the federal methane rule will not affect Colorado directly, as the state has had its own methane waste regulations since 2014. Here, oil and gas operators are required to capture 95 percent of emissions and to find and repair all methane leaks. Colorado’s regulations actually served as the model for the federal rule. But that doesn’t mean the state won’t suffer if the rule is removed, said Jessica Goad, communications director for Conservation Colorado.

“Air pollution does not respect state lines,” she said, pointing to Utah’s significant oil and gas production, “Without strong regulations on their facilities, air pollution could blow over to the western slope of Colorado. Colorado’s rule doesn’t negate the need for an umbrella over other states.”

Congress is taking advantage of its authority under the rarely-used Congressional Review Act to cut the methane rule. That means that if the rule is removed, it cannot be reinstated without another act of Congress and significant changes to the rule itself.

Aaron Weiss of the Center for Western Priorities said that’s a problem, because the methane rule was well-researched and effective. “This isn’t some out-there, crazy policy that was thrown in last minute,” he said. “This is a rule that has been in the works for years.”

Goad echoed that point, noting the state’s methane rule had support from the oil and gas industry itself. “It’s not everyday that we get up at a podium with Anadarko and Noble, but oil companies stood up with us on this. They knew that this is the Colorado way of doing things.”

A majority of Colorado residents have expressed interest in protecting the natural environment, Weiss said, and that should deter lawmakers from voting for elimination.

Anybody in a potentially up-for-grabs Senate race, if they vote for this, it will come back to haunt them,” he said. 

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group, said that “our industry is already heavily regulated at the state level and duplicative federal regulations are unnecessary and add unnecessary costs to doing business in Colorado.” Kathleen Sgamma, president of Western Energy Alliance, said the group “strongly supports use of the Congressional Review Act to roll back this clear overreach of federal authority in the form of a rule that will provide very little environmental benefit, but at great cost.” 

Congress used the Congressional Review Act earlier this week to repeal the Stream Protection Rule, which prohibits coal companies from dumping mining waste into waterways. That decision now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature. A rule that updates the Bureau of Land Management’s land and resource management planning process is expected to receive similar treatment in the coming weeks.

The Senate is expected to vote on the methane rule next week.


Photo credit: Ted Wood, The Story Group

Update: This story has been updated to include statements from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and Western Energy Alliance.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Aaron Weiss was mistakenly identified as working for Western Resource Advocates. He works for the Center for Western Priorities.