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ND joins lawsuit against BLM over methane rule

Oil production sites are pictured in McKenzie County, N.D., on Thursday, July 28, 2016. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — North Dakota is joining a lawsuit that seeks to block a federal rule related to reducing flaring, venting and leaking of natural gas on federal lands.

North Dakota is intervening in a lawsuit filed by the states of Wyoming and Montana against the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management, seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the agency's venting and flaring rule from taking effect Jan. 17.

Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, said a major problem with the rule is it imposes federal regulations on private and state minerals that are co-mingled with some federal minerals.

But the North Dakota Industrial Commission already requires gas capture plans to reduce natural gas flaring and the North Dakota Department of Health already handles air emissions enforcement on oil and gas sites, Helms said.

"It's really a states' rights issue," Helms told members of the Industrial Commission Thursday, Dec. 8, as he provided an update on the litigation.

The federal rule would affect about 32 percent of all Bakken production areas, Helms said.

The BLM said the rule, which updates 30-year-old regulations, could avoid wasting up to 41 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year.

The Dakota Resource Council and Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights have praised the rule and called on the state to enforce and accept the standards.

Helms said the BLM's rule would be more lenient than the state's standards in the short term but more stringent in the long term.

A hearing on the preliminary injunction will be held in Casper, Wyo., on Jan. 6.

The governor's budget proposal presented this week for 2017-19 sets aside $1 million for legal challenges of the BLM rule and other federal regulations, Helms said.