About 40 comment on proposed new BLM natural gas flaring, venting rules
Around 40 people waited to offer three minutes of praise or criticism to a proposed new Bureau of Land Management rule that would affect the handling of natural gas Thursday during a packed public forum at the Astoria Hotel & Event Center in Dickinson .
The proposed rule would require measures that would reduce flaring, venting and gas leaks from oil activity on federal and Native American lands. These include using capture techniques and regular inspections.
The main arguments for the rule include cutting down on wasting the resource, becoming more environmentally friendly and accounting for more royalties.
The rule would stipulate that by the first year it’s in effect, a well would be limited to venting 7.2 million cubic feet of gas per month. By the second year, it would lower to 3.6 million cubic feet, and the third year and beyond would be limited to less than 1.8 million cubic feet.
Alternative limits would be allowed for leases issued before the rule’s effective date, as well as for operators deemed susceptible to ceasing production under the rule. A two-year exemption would also be granted under certain outlined factors of inconvenience in capturing and transporting natural gas.
Wells would also be routinely inspected for leaks and operators would have to repair leaks within 15 days.
The BLM estimates the net benefits from its measures could be from $115 million to $188 million, with $9 million to $11 million in additional royalties. It also estimates operator costs would be from $27,000 to $36,000 per year, not including captured gas profits, and flared, leaked and vented methane would be reduced between 164,000 and 169,000 tons.
District 37 Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson, said her family and friends are employed in the local oil industry, and added that it plays a large role in the local economy.
Steiner, who is the executive director of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties, asked for a six-month extension to the comment period for more public and industry input.
“Your agency will be making a sweeping change that impacts the economics of my legislative district, and I ask you to gather more data,” she said.
Steiner also expressed concern at how the proposed rule seemed to apply irrespective of different well types in different states, adding she didn’t know how they differed in each state. She also said she read that authors of the new regulations admitted they weren’t sure if what they proposed would work in the field.
“The oil and gas industry needs to know the specifics because we run a business,” Steiner said.
Ryan Alexander, the president of national budget watchdog organization Taxpayers for Common Sense, testified in favor of the proposed rule by saying that it was a needed upgrade to old regulations.
She cited BLM estimates that around $400 million in gas was flared or vented in 2013, which was double the amount lost in 2009. Though oil production increased significantly between those years. More than half of these national losses were in North Dakota, she said.
Alexander also said the BLM estimated the gas lost between these dates could have powered 5 million homes for a year.
“This rule is an important step towards ensuring that taxpayers and owners receive fair compensation for all resources extracted from BLM land,” she said.
Lynn Helms, the director of North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said his department has found overlaps and inter-conflicts with other BLM regulations. He also said his office suggested a 60- to 90-day extension to the comment period.
“We really like the waste minimization aspect of the rule, and we want to spend some more time looking at that and commenting in a positive way about that,” he said.
However, Helms said the department was “very concerned” over the eventual 1.8 million cubic foot monthly well flaring and venting limit by the third year. He also said the 15-day time limit to fix gas leaks could prove inconvenient given North Dakota weather extremes.
The hearing saw a large presence from the Three Affiliated Tribes, all of whom spoke in favor of the new rule due to royalty loss with excess gas flaring and venting, along with health and environmental concerns.
One of them was tribal member, surface owner and mineral owner Theodora Bird Bear.
“Daily in Mandaree, thick plumes of smoke and particulate matter is released by the flares into the air that we tribal members breathe,” she said.
Bird Bear said she’s read of nine oil workers being killed by petroleum gases, three in North Dakota. She said she wanted leaky wells on the reservation fixed and monitored.
“I want BLM to know that tribal mineral owners like myself value safe and clean air on Fort Berthold Indian Reservation,” Bird Bear said.