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Interior Moves to Delay Obama-era Rule on Methane Emissions

FILE - A crew works on a gas-drilling rig at a well site for shale-based natural gas in Zelienople, Pa., June 25, 2012.
FILE - A crew works on a gas-drilling rig at a well site for shale-based natural gas in Zelienople, Pa., June 25, 2012.

The Interior Department is moving to delay an Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands.

The rule, finalized last November, forces energy companies to capture methane that's burnt off or "flared" at drilling sites on public lands during production because it pollutes the environment. An estimated $330 million a year in methane is wasted through leaks or intentional releases on federal lands, enough to power about 5 million homes a year.

The Interior Department said in a notice to be published Thursday in the Federal Register that an analysis conducted during the Obama administration may have underestimated costs and overestimated benefits. The department wants to delay the rule until January 2019.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a leading contributor to global warming. It is far more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide but does not stay in the air as long.

A bid by Senate Republicans to overturn the methane rule failed unexpectedly in May, prompting Interior officials to promise to suspend, revise or rescind the regulation as part of a wider effort by the Trump administration to unravel what it considers burdensome regulations imposed by former President Barack Obama.

The methane rule imposes a "significant regulatory burden that encumbers American energy production, economic growth and job creation," especially in North Dakota, Colorado and New Mexico, Interior said.

Support for the rule

Environmental groups sharply disagreed.

Rolling back the methane waste rule "makes no sense and is yet another example of the lengths this administration will go to sell out our public lands," said Jenny Kordick, an energy policy expert for The Wilderness Society.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said the methane rule provides badly needed revenue to states like New Mexico for public education and other services.

Prior to the rule, an estimated $100 million in taxpayer-owned natural gas was wasted each year from oil and gas wells operating on public lands in New Mexico, Udall said, adding that the rule has helped to reduce dangerous air pollution across the West, including a methane cloud the size of Delaware that hangs over the Four Corners region of New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado.

"This rule is simply good policy — good for taxpayers, good for the economy and good for the environment," Udall said. He and other Democrats encouraged the public to speak out to defend the rule during a 30-day public comment period that begins Thursday.