Skip to content

Western Dems want to ban 'harmful' flaring on public lands

Four Western senators are urging the Bureau of Land Management to ban routine venting and flaring of natural gas on public lands, a stiffer standard that would mirror some state regulations.

The ask — from Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper of Colorado, as well as New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján — comes as BLM aims to finalize draft rules to cut methane waste from federal oil and gas production.

The Biden administration has proposed to limit the amount of royalty-free flaring of natural gas allowed from federal oil and gas leases, alongside other new directives, like making drilling permits potentially contingent on waste minimization plans (Energywire, Nov. 29, 2022).

But in a Friday letter to BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning, the Western lawmakers said BLM’s proposal "does not go far enough" to reduce wasted gas.

A ban on routine venting and flaring would be more in line with methane standards set by Colorado in 2020 and New Mexico in 2021, they said.

“We urge BLM to follow our states’ example and prohibit all routine venting and flaring at new wells and swiftly phase it out at existing wells on public and Tribal lands,” the letter says. “The oil and gas resources on these lands belong to the American public and Tribal nations, respectively, and they deserve to benefit from cleaner air and the full value of their resources.”

Methane, the largest component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas, with stronger warming properties than carbon dioxide. But because methane does not stay in the atmosphere as long, some lawmakers say cutting methane pollution, particularly in the oil and gas sector where it can be sold or trapped and reused, would be an effective near-term solution to limiting global warming (Energywire, June 9, 2022).

The U.S. is among more than 100 signers of a global methane pledge to help reduce emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030.

In their letter Friday, the lawmakers called flaring an “unnecessary and harmful practice” that’s been increasing over the last 30 years on public lands.

“Between 1990 and 2000, venting and flaring from federal and Tribal onshore leases averaged approximately 11 billion cubic feet per year in losses,” the letter states, citing the BLM’s data. “Between 2010 and 2020, total annual losses rose to more than 44 billion cubic feet, enough to serve roughly 675,000 homes.”