- The Washington Times - Friday, January 22, 2016

The Obama administration moved Friday to impose new regulations on oil and gas drillers to curb methane emissions on federal lands, a proposal that Republicans said will curtail energy development.

The new standards from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management would mandate that drillers use specific technologies to cut down on gas flaring, and limit gas leaks when drilling. The BLM also is proposing to charge royalties for natural gas that is vented deliberately.

Assistant Interior Secretary Janice Schneider said the regulations are “commonsense and cost-effective,” and resulted from several government studies and feedback from stakeholders and native American tribes. She said the regulations would be phased in over several years to give operators time to implement the requirements “cost efficiently.”

Industry representatives and Republican lawmakers accused the administration of launching another assault on fossil fuels, just a week after Mr. Obama imposed a three-year ban on new coal mining on federal land.

“This will stymie oil and natural gas development on federal lands, which is the president’s real goal: to keep it in the ground,” said Speaker Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.

House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, Utah Republican, said the “duplicative and cost-prohibitive measures” will curb energy production.

“Rather than making energy cleaner or more affordable, this proposed rule will further dissuade and expel producers from federal land,” Mr. Bishop said. “The regulation merely checks off an item on the list of priorities for far left national special interest groups in the waning months of this White House. Though it is getting hard to envision, somewhere there is someone or something the Obama gang doesn’t want to regulate.”

The Western Energy Alliance, which represents about 450 energy companies, said the regulations are unnecessary and that the industry is already taking effective steps to reduce emissions.

“We support the goal of capturing greater quantities of methane and reducing waste gas, but a command-and-control regulatory approach is not the most effective way to meet that goal, particularly one that exceeds BLM’s jurisdiction,” said Kathleen Sgamma, the alliance’s vice president of government and public affairs. “Industry has achieved dramatic emission reductions without federal regulations. Since 1990, oil and natural gas producers have decreased methane emissions by 21 percent even as natural gas production has climbed 47 percent — all without federal regulation. The new BLM regulation is simply another case of a federal government fix to something that’s already working well.”

Environmental groups praised the administration’s move. Earthjustice said called the proposal “an important step towards reining in climate-disrupting pollution from this dirty industry.”

“We look forward to reading the proposal and working with the Bureau of Land Management to make sure the oil and gas industry is held to the highest standard and stops needless leaking, venting and flaring into the air we breathe,” said Abigail Dillen, the group’s vice president of litigation for climate and energy.

One industry representative said the action suggests that Mr. Obama is “all hat and no cattle” when he talks about domestic oil and gas production.

“Imposing these new regulations will make it more expensive and harder for independent producers to operate, reducing America’s total energy production and preventing additional receipts from going back to the United States Treasury,” said Dan Naatz, senior vice president of government relations and political affairs at the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

He added, “Making matters worse, lifting the royalty rate ceiling simply leaves the door open for the federal government to increase rates on producers down the road. This will change the predictability and certainty for operators on federal lands, making it harder to plan and commit to long-term projects. With oil and natural gas prices currently at their lowest in decades, now is the worst time to raise fees on America’s independent producers.”

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