By: Michelle Neuenschwander
The Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Waste and Prevention 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 – commonly referred to as “flaring” – the natural gas.
In 2016, the BLM held a public hearing in Denver regarding the rule that was under consideration for implementation. The process taken to adopt the methane rule was transparent and fair; over 300,000 people commented in its favor. Not surprising when you consider that in 2017, a bipartisan pair of pollsters found that 81 percent of voters in western states were supportive of adopting the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) methane waste rule.
The rule succeeded in being adopted by the BLM and even survived an attempt by Congress to remove it from law. However, the Trump Administration has turned its sights on the rule as it has proposed changes that would gut the rule – without any form of public input.
While there are some basic financial arguments that show why the rule should be maintained — oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands are wasting more than $330 million worth of natural gas nationwide each year — the focus on health is more disconcerting.
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 and worsen emphysema. Latinos are disproportionately affected by the health impacts of oil and gas development — in fact 1.81 million Latinos live within a half mile of existing facilities. The National Hispanic Medical Association and LULAC report, Latino Communities At Risk: The Impact of Air Pollution from the Oil and Gas Industry, found that many Latino communities face an elevated risk of cancer due to toxic air emissions from oil and gas development.
The oil and gas industry continues to expand, especially in states like Colorado and in places that have large and growing Latino populations. To make matters worse, NASA announced in 2014 that they had found a methane “hot-spot” the size of Delaware hovering over the four corners region and that oil and gas operations were major contributors to the methane plume. Pollution from these operations will only degrade air quality further. Greater protections for our nation’s public lands will help address some of the larger health issues that affect our community as a whole.
We can’t continue ignoring these problems. Change begins when we acknowledge we are dealing with an issue, in this case, one that affects our health, our pockets and most important, our planet.
We must not abandon rules that ensure that air quality doesn’t harm our children and communities. We have a moral obligation to our generation and the generations that follow. There is no excuse to not modernize oil and gas development, especially when our health and safety hang in the balance.