Guest Opinions

Idaho, West need the BLM’s methane waste standard

The BLM is responsible for managing the oil and gas underneath our public lands for the benefit of all Americans. When oil companies lease the right to extract these resources to companies on behalf of the American taxpayers, it is BLM’s job to ensure that Americans get a fair return and our resources are used wisely.

That’s exactly what the new BLM methane waste standard does. It provides Idaho and the nation with direct benefits in the form of increased revenue and improved air quality by reducing the amount of methane that is flared, vented or leaked on federal and tribal lands.

Natural gas waste is rampant from oil and gas operations on our public lands, whether it’s through the deliberate burning or venting of natural gas or through leaky equipment or infrastructure.

Recent estimates suggest that negligent drilling practices result in the loss of enough natural gas to heat more than 1.5 million American homes annually. In fact, more than $330 million worth of natural gas was wasted in a single year. Practical and affordable technologies already exist that can reduce this unnecessary waste.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called this “troubling,” and with good reason. Independent watchdog group Taxpayers for Commonsense confirms that taxpayers lost nearly $600 million in royalty revenues from 2005-2015 because of royalty breaks given on natural gas extracted from onshore federal leases. That’s $600 million that would otherwise be split between state and local governments.

Unfortunately, some members of Congress are threatening to use the Congressional Review Act to strip away these policies even though there is strong public support. According to a recent Colorado College survey, 80 percent of Westerners support efforts to reduce the waste of this important energy resource that belongs to the American people. Taxpayers are likely to lose out on another $800 million worth of revenue over the next decade if these policies are dismantled.

BLM’s efforts received bipartisan support from conservationists and fiscal conservatives, and reinforce the notion that we can responsibly develop our natural resources without placing an unnecessary burden on the American people or the economy.

These principles aren’t political bargaining tools subject to debate. They are part of longstanding American tradition. In 1862 Abraham Lincoln established the Department of Agriculture to help preserve farmlands and forests on which the majority of Americans depended for food and economic stability. Decades later, Theodore Roosevelt made land conservation a core component of his legacy, creating new national parks, monuments and forests. In 1946, Harry Truman created the BLM to help protect the resources on millions of acres of public and tribal lands.

To reject common-sense policies that can enhance our economy, conserve our resources and protect hardworking taxpayers is to reject core American values that Republicans and Democrats have long agreed are essential to America’s prosperity. Please contact your U.S. senators to urge them to vote no on SJR 11 and support the BLM’s Methane Waste Prevention Rule.

Mary Susan Roach is a retired family nurse practitioner and a member of the Weiser River Resource Council.