Maite Arce on Huffington Post
Many would agree that Congress has a moral obligation to listen to voters and protect our cherished outdoor heritage. Unfortunately, some in the U.S. Senate are attempting to overturn a popular rule that reduces the waste of taxpayer-owned natural gas on public and tribal lands. As if that wasn’t enough, overturning the rule would stifle the agency’s ability to enact similar rules in the future, permanently harming taxpayers and our health.
What the U.S. Senate is missing is that this new Bureau of Land Management rule, which updated one that was over 30 years old, was the result of public input. Numerous meetings were held with industry, the tribes, and the public – in fact over 300,000 comments were taken into account. A bipartisan public opinion poll, Colorado College The State of the Rockies: Conservation in the West 2017 Poll, found that 81 percent of voters in seven western states supported rules mitigating methane gas waste on our public lands. The support isn’t just relegated to environmentalists either. Businesses, health organizations, and even Latino groups have spoken up about their support.
The BLM rule is the epitome of common sense. It requires oil and gas companies that maintain operations on tribal and federal public lands – land that is technically owned by the nation’s taxpayers – to use modern and cost effective technologies to cut waste. This includes stopping leaks and ending the practice of burning off the natural gas.
In total, estimates show that nearly $330 million worth of natural gas is lost each year. That means that taxpayers are missing out on approximately $27 million in royalties – money that could be used for education and community infrastructure.
Additionally, the methane mitigation field is a growing source of jobs in the United States. Currently, these companies provide jobs in at least 531 location across 46 states at a median hourly wage of $30.88, compared to $19.60 for all U.S. jobs. Voting against the rollback is a vote for business and new jobs in energy industry.
And while these numbers may be all fine and good, it doesn’t take into the account the costs to our health if the Senate turns a blind eye to curbing natural gas waste.
When natural gas, primarily in the form of methane, is released into the air, so too are harmful pollutants such as benzene, which are linked to cancer, and other ozone-forming pollutants that can trigger asthma attacks. The impact is even greater on Latino communities, as they face elevated risks due to toxic emissions, according to a report by the National Hispanic Medical Association and Clean Air Task Force, which found that “more than 1.81 million Latinos live within a half mile of existing oil and gas facilities and the number is growing every year.”
And clean air is also good for business, especially in the West where blue skies are a big incentive for recreating on public lands or for businesses to set up shop and compete for high skilled talent. So when oil and gas development is mismanaged and harms air quality, it hurts western economies. That’s why the nation’s leading outdoor recreation businesses and dozens of small businesses have opposed the rollback.
And while some will say the amount of natural gas released is miniscule compared to the amount collected, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration would beg to differ. A recent NASA study discovered that oil and gas operations were largely responsible for a methane cloud the size of Delaware hovering over the Four Corners region in the West.
To say this is troubling is an understatement. We’ve let oil and gas companies handle this on their own so far and look where it’s gotten us.
The Senate should soundly reject the BLM methane rule Congressional Review Act resolution and prove that people matter more than profits. That our communities come before special interests with deep pockets.
We have a responsibility to ensure that air quality doesn’t harm our children and communities. We have a moral obligation to protect our land, air and water. There is no excuse to not modernize oil and gas development, especially when our health and safety hangs in the balance. And if the resulting changes equal hundreds of millions of dollars in savings, what other reasons do we need.