Zinke to Oil and Gas Industry: Let 'Er Rip

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has just proposed to eviscerate the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) standards adopted a little over a year ago to stop the rampant climate pollution and loss of taxpayer revenue from oil and gas operations on our public lands.

Methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, is leaked, vented and flared from thousands of oil and gas wells and associated operations on our public lands. Methane is a powerful climate pollutant, packing more than 80 times more heat-trapping punch on a near-term basis, pound for pound, than carbon dioxide.

The BLM Methane and Waste Rule, issued in November 2016, marked the first serious steps by the Interior Department to stop the methane and toxic air pollution, capture wasted natural gas for productive use, and recoup millions of dollars in lost royalties for federal, state, local, and tribal governments.

Oil and gas companies wanted Congressional Republicans to kill the Rule last spring under the Congressional Review Act But three GOP Senators (Collins-ME, Graham-SC, and McCain-AZ) broke ranks to prevent that.

But never mind, if Congress won’t do what oil and gas wants, Ryan Zinke will.

His proposal rescinds nearly every pollution control measure in the 2016 Rule, including requirements to replace old and outdated equipment, stop leaks, and control gases oozing from storage tanks.

The proposal even nixes operators’ duty to prepare waste minimization plans, which merely required submitting information on how they would limit harmful venting and flaring from wells.

In sum, Zinke wants to let the oil and gas polluters off the hook by returning to the feeble, decades-old, do-nothing regulations that preceded the 2016 Rule.

Even by Zinke’s own estimates, gutting the Rule would have disastrous impacts:

  • Taxpayers will lose millions of dollars every year in royalties that could go to fund schools, hospitals, and local roads;
  • Industry will waste hundreds of millions of dollars worth of natural gas that could have been kept in the pipes and sold instead of being lost as pollution; and
  • We’ll all suffer more irreversible climate-change damages totaling hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

This latest step is shocking in its irresponsibility, even as it comes as little surprise to those following the history of these common-sense standards.

A coalition of local, state, and national partners worked hard to save the Rule from Congressional attack, and to fend off attacks in the courts. NRDC and our state and environmental allies kept the Rule alive by winning a federal court order in October overturning Zinke’s first attempt to “stay” the Rule while he mulled a rulemaking to rescind it.

We’re in court again challenging Zinke’s second attempt to “stay” the Rule in early December.

Now comes Zinke’s latest proposal to rescind the Rule. This time, he must hear from the public by holding hearings and responding to public comments. Only after that can he issue a final repeal. 

So this is the time for Americans to speak out for common sense—for climate protection, for curbing toxic pollution, for stopping the waste of natural gas and the loss of taxpayer revenue. First and foremost, for the oil and gas industry to clean up its act.

And if Zinke keeps catering to the polluters and ignores the will of the American people—that’s when we’ll see him in court, again.

About the Authors

Meleah Geertsma

Senior Attorney, Environmental Justice, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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