Industry challenges vent-flaring rule status

WYOMING – A judge ordered the Bureau of Land Management to comply with its venting and flaring “methane rule” – just as the BLM announced it was rewriting the same rule – and the legal situation grew even more complex.

On Friday, Oct. 27, the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) and Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) announced filing their requests in Wyoming’s U.S. District Court to halt a U.S. Department of Justice motion.

The DOJ seeks to delay the long-running lawsuit against the original BLM rule, which the energy industry and western states would like to see continue in Wyoming’s federal court.

“The WEA and IPAA simultaneously filed a motion for preliminary injunction to seek relief from impending compliance dates that take effect in January,” according to their joint statement Oct. 27.

Wyoming U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl, who presides over that lawsuit, scheduled the motion hearing for Dec. 18 at 1:30 p.m. in his Casper courtroom. Both sides filed motions for time extensions, which were referred to Judge Kelly H. Rankin.

Wyoming and other western states challenged the Obama administration rule, arguing the BLM does not have regulatory oversight over releasing and burning excess methane. They claim that belongs to states and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Last January, Wyoming’s federal judge denied a preliminary injunction motion against the rule and in early October a northern California judge ordered it to proceed as scheduled in January 2018, records show.

However, in a turnabout in early October, the Trump administration also stated it would suspend and rewrite the methane rule and opened a comment period for the rule through Nov. 6.

Earlier in October, Washington BLM spokesperson Megan Crandall addressed the status of the BLM’s venting and flaring rule after the California judgment – which she explained was “national in scope and not limited to California.”

“The BLM’s postponement of the January 2018 compliance dates in the venting and flaring rule was vacated by a court in California on Oct. 4,” Crandall wrote in an email. “This result was not unexpected and, at this time, has practically no effect on operators’ obligations, since all of the requirements BLM purported to postpone were not effective until January 2018 anyway.”

“The twists and turns of this case have been a bit confusing to anyone watching the legal maneuvering,” said Kathleen Sgamma, WEA president. “Our preliminary injunction request is necessary to ensure companies do not have to comply with a rule that is being completely rewritten by the agency.”

Currently, she added, “BLM is (now) trying to do the right thing by suspending the rule through a full rulemaking process, but we cannot be sure that it will get that suspension done in time.”

Portions of the methane rule are slated to take effect in January 2018, as ordered by the northern California judge.

“Since environmental groups and state attorneys general opposed to the oil and natural gas industry will inevitably litigate the suspension and the new rule, we are seeking relief while everything gets sorted out,” Sgamma said. “It just doesn’t make sense for companies to comply with a rule that is so obviously a violation of the Clean Air Act.”

IPAA vice president Dan Naatz echoed Sgamma, adding, “The timing for our member companies to make business decisions on the final rule is fast approaching. It makes little sense for companies to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to prepare for compliance with a rule that will inevitably change under the Trump Administration.”

To read the motion, go to https://cdn. files/MemoranduminSupportofPreliminaryInjunction_WesternEnergyAlliance_ IPAA_102717.pdf.

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