Senate should leave intact rules governing methane


Straight out of the “If Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” playbook of unnecessary tinkering the U.S. Congress has produced this spring comes a resolution that would effectively roll back common-sense environmental safeguards, threaten public health and encourage needless waste of valuable energy resources.

House Resolution 36, the Congressional Review Act Resolution of Disapproval of the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, won narrow approval in the House of Representatives in February. Since then, it has stalled out in the Senate, where it should remain a non-starter. Better yet, responsible senators – including undecided U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio – should recognize its flaws and reject the measure outright in a full floor vote.

HR 36 would cancel the BLM’s rule implemented last year during the administration of President Barack Obama that aims to lessen the amount of flaring, venting and other leaking of methane gas on publicly owned lands by the oil and gas industry. Flaring is the burning of natural gas that cannot be processed or sold. Venting refers to the controlled release of natural gas into the atmosphere.

The 2016 rule requires the oil and gas industry to reduce methane emissions significantly over the next decade on new, modified and reconstructed infrastructure, such as wells, pipelines and processing and storage facilities.

From an environmental perspective, methane gas poses significant danger. Methane, the colorless, odorless greenhouse gas that is the prime component of natural gas, is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere.

As such, it is recognized as a leading contributor to climate change.

From a public health perspective, the danger of the gas looms large as well. Methane pollution from drilling in the oil and gas industry on public and tribal lands – including the massive Wayne National Forest in Ohio’s Appalachian region – brings with it other toxic air pollutants that contribute to smog and sickness.

“When methane is released, there are other harmful pollutants that come out alongside it, and these can lead to serious health problems,” including asthma attacks, chronic respiratory ailments and heart ailments, Melanie Houston, director of oil and gas for the Ohio Environmental Council, told members of The Vindicator’sSFlbEditorial Board recently.

Some 3.1 million Ohioans live within a half mile of oil and gas facilities, she said. Annually, in Mahoning County, some 500 asthma attacks occur in children and nearly 400 school days are lost due to drilling-related air pollution, she added.

WASTING ENERGY

From the perspective of maximizing energy conservation, keeping the 2016 standards in place makes eminently good sense as well.

The BLM estimates that natural gas valued at $454 million was vented, flared or otherwise wasted in 2014 on federal and tribal lands. That represents a whopping $56 million in tax revenue never realized. Additionally, the OEC estimates that enough methane gas is wasted in drilling operations in our state each year to heat 15,000 homes.

Collectively, HR 36 produces little more than misguided energy, environmental and economic policy.

While industry opponents argue that the more stringent anti-pollution rules will cost it jobs and growth, reality suggests otherwise. The council, for example, points to Colorado, which has some of the nation’s strictest methane-control standards. There, oil and gas development has increased since the implementation of the standards.

As a side benefit in Ohio, momentum to lessen methane release has spawned new industries and has helped to stabilize others in the production of oil country tubular-goods producers such as Vallourec in Youngstown.

One final drawback to the pending Senate resolution lies in its extreme draconian impact. In its format as a congressional review act, it would prevent the agency from ever again working to reduce methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. Clearly, that’s a risky proposition.

An opponent of the vote, Jesse Prentice-Dunn, advocacy director at the Center for Western Priorities in Denver, said the move “checked the box on another major agenda item for big oil and gas corporations at the expense of American taxpayers” and argued the change “will simply let gas go up in smoke.”

The U.S. Senate should recognize as much and act quickly to reject the dangers inherent in HR 36.

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