Montana Public Radio

Court Upholds Obama Methane Release Rule

Feb 23, 2018

A U.S. District Court judge Thursday ordered the reinstatement of an oil and gas industry regulation that aims to lower harmful methane emissions. Environmental groups say it’s a win for states including Montana.

Anne Hedges, Deputy Director of the Montana Environmental Information Center says her organization fought for methane release regulation for years and that it needs to be maintained.

“Montana has hundreds of wells," Hedges said. "There’s a big uptick in leasing for oil and gas on public lands and it’s distressing when you think that these companies might do so and waste a really valuable product.”

In yesterday’s ruling a federal judge in California ordered the Department of the Interior to keep in place the 2016 regulation that requires energy companies to capture the methane released at drilling sites.

The petroleum industry says capturing methane at remote wells is not always feasible economically.

This is the second time a federal judge has ruled against the Trump administration’s efforts to postpone or not enforce the methane regulation.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said the regulation “penalizes oil and gas.” He says the Trump administration wants to encourage the industry to voluntarily find ways to capture and re-use methane.

But environmental groups like MEIC say that methane emissions from oil and gas operations are the second largest industrial contributor to climate change in the United States and need to be controlled.

“And after last summer’s forest fires we saw how much money it cost to deal with those forest fires we don’t need to do anything unnecessarily to contribute to climate change and the release of these methane emissions is doing just that,” Hedges said.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, and is wasted through leaks or intentional releases, known as flares, during drilling.

Hedges and other environmental groups say they know this isn’t the end of litigation over methane regulations. The Bureau of Land Management is expected to release a revised methane waste rule later this year that would replace and effectively gut the current regulation.