The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity, (760) 366-2232 x 302
Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, Western Environmental Law Center, (575) 770-1295
Stuart C. Ross, Clean Air Task Force, (914) 649-5037 cell

As Climate Warms, Petition Seeks to Stop Methane Leaks at Drilling Operations on America's Public Lands


Companies fracking or drilling for oil and gas on public lands should be required to use pollution controls to cut harmful methane leaks contributing to the global climate crisis, according to a petition filed today to the Bureau of Land Management by the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Environmental Law Center and Clean Air Task Force. About 126 billion cubic feet of gas are unnecessarily vented and flared from federal leases each year.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas -- 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in warming the globe over a 20-year period -- and plays a major role in climate change.

This past January to August were the warmest eight months on record in the contiguous United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"As climate change heats up our planet, many companies still don't bother to control methane emissions from fracking and drilling on public lands," said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center's for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. "The federal government needs to put a lid on this highly destructive form of pollution. Methane's far too powerful at driving global warming to let it leak out this way. We can't sit here fiddling while Rome burns."

Today's petition calls on the BLM to require that oil- and gas-drilling operators install readily available pollution-control measures that would reduce methane gas leaked into the atmosphere during the drilling process. Stopping the leaks would also keep more gas in the pipeline for consumers and add millions of dollars to the federal treasury from royalty payments. The wasted gas is enough to heat 1.7 million homes for a year.

Fracking, a highly controversial drilling technique that involves blasting huge quantities of water and toxic chemicals into the earth, worsens the leakage problem. The oil and gas industry fracks about 90 percent of wells drilled on federal lands, according to the BLM.

Methane emissions also contribute to higher levels of ground-level ozone pollution, which has serious direct public-health impacts, including increasing the incidence of asthma, lost school and workdays, and premature death.

"This isn't about whether oil and gas drilling is good or bad, it's about whether the Bureau of Land Management is going to clean up sloppy drilling practices that damage our climate," said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich of the Western Environmental Law Center. "With win-win solutions at our fingertips that will keep more energy in the pipeline for consumers, there's no reason the agency should not be requiring the industry to use the best proven, available equipment and practices. This is a no-brainer."

Federal law requires the BLM to prevent the waste of gas on federal leases, and evidence suggests that operators can economically capture at least 40 percent of leaked gas from federal lands, reducing greenhouse pollution by the same amount as removing 3.1 million cars from the road and increasing royalty payments by $23 million annually. The BLM is also required to protect the environmental, air, atmospheric, water, and other resource values of public lands and prevent their unnecessary or undue degradation. The agency manages more than 245 million acres of public lands and administers about 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate.

"Regulating methane from oil and gas production is absolutely essential to protecting both climate and public health in the U.S.," said Ann Weeks, senior counsel for Clean Air Task Force and one of the signatories to the petition.

"There are many off-the-shelf techniques available today for controlling methane emissions from wells, pipelines and other sources in the production process. We are therefore demanding that BLM take a leadership role in requiring natural gas lessees to minimize their leakage of methane, an enormously potent short-lived climate pollutant."

Methane emissions greatly accelerate climate change, the consequences of which Americans experienced this summer: record high temperatures and massive droughts leading to higher food prices.

BLM has admitted that its regulations have not kept pace with modern oil- and gas-extraction techniques, and has proposed new rules for fracking on federal lands. The proposed regulations do not address air pollution. The agency has stated it intends to address air pollution at a later time.

A copy of the petition can be found here: