BLM’s methane rule
For one overarching reason, but not the only reason, the US government should ditch the Bureau
of Land Management’s rule for methane emissions
from oil and gas wells on federal land. Published in
final form last November, the rule typifies errors
embedded in the Obama administration’s overwhelmingly erroneous approach to oil and gas.
Among lesser reasons supporting repeal, the
rule overlaps regulation by the Environmental
Protection Agency, addresses an overstated problem, aims costly responses at a shrinking target,
and ignores essential contexts.
Urge to regulate
The urge to regulate methane relates to the warming potential of the gas, about 25 times that of carbon dioxide. Taken by itself amid modern hysteria
over CO2, that datum seems alarming. Here’s another one that hasn’t yet found itself into alarmist
propaganda: The methane concentration in the atmosphere has more than doubled since preindustrial times. Doubled! Not even CO2 has doubled yet!
But wait. Neither methane nor CO2 amounts to
much in air, even at lately elevated levels. The CO2
concentration has risen to about 400 ppm from
280 ppm since industrialization began, largely
because of human activity, especially the burning
of fossil fuels. By itself, that’s not dire. CO2 levels
have been many times higher in the distant past.
But amplification of otherwise negligible warming through atmospheric interactions might create
problems. Science should work on that—if politics
will let it.
Compared with CO2, methane is runny gruel.
The atmospheric concentration to which it has
doubled from preindustrial levels is a scant 1.8
ppm. Unlike CO2, methane doesn’t linger in the
atmosphere, instead decomposing into CO2 and
water. And while about 60% of methane in the atmosphere is attributable to human activity, only a
third of that relates to production of oil and gas.
Targeting methane from oil and gas work for the
remediation of climate change, therefore, can’t accomplish much. And in the US, methane emissions already are falling, even with recent gains in
oil and gas production.
Rising use of natural gas in place of coal for
power generation helps explain how annual emis-
sions of CO2 have steadied below their 2007 peak
in the US despite an overall increase in consump-
tion of fossil energy. And growth in use of solar
energy and wind for power generation requires
more use of gas for back-up. Natural gas, despite
its high warming potential, thus strengthens de-
fenses against global warming. People and agen-
cies committed to that goal should encourage its
production and use.
Ignoring those contexts, the BLM adopted a
rule sure to discourage gas production on federal
land. Apparently, that outcome is intentional. In
addition to raising costs and hampering well-site
operations, the rule enables BLM to raise the federal royalty on new leases.
With its methane rule, the BLM thus conforms
with an unstated strategy evident throughout the
Obama administration, especially in its later years:
to resist work related to development of oil and gas
resources. BLM, EPA, and other agencies aligned
their already unhealthy urges to regulate with advocacy groups opposed to any activity promising
to boost supplies of fossil energy.
Environmental activists make their rationale
clear: new supplies of oil, gas, and coal imply
future additions of CO2 to the atmosphere from
the combustion of hydrocarbons and therefore
must be resisted. They also make clear they care
nothing about the costs of their obstructionism.
Alliance of federal agencies with such extremism
skews regulation dangerously.
Breaking the link
The overarching reason to repeal BLM’s methane
rule is to break that link and rebalance priorities of
the Executive Branch. Opponents of the move will
complain about the supposed reversal of environmental progress. They’ll thus ignore how natural
gas helps to moderate emissions of CO2 and betray
a bias harmful to policy-making.
With a 230-190 vote on Feb. 2, the House approved a Congressional Review Act resolution to
rescind the BLM rule. The Senate vote likewise
and help bring federal regulation back under control.