Native Sun News Today: Energy industry fights rule that boosts tribal energy royalties

The Bureau of Land Management has updated its regulations to require operators to avoid wasteful flaring of gas by capturing it for sale or on-site use at pumping stations. An example of flaring can be seen here at a drilling site on the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota. Photo by Talli Nauman

Tribes could benefit from methane captured in fracking, but industry opposes rules update
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor

MANDAREE, N.D. –– Updated rules on methane capture at oil and gas wells, which took effect on January 17, will cut tribes’ air pollution while boosting their royalties by as much as $1.9 million a year, according to the federal Bureau of Land Management, or BLM.

However, representatives of the petroleum industry and several Western states that hope to block the rules with a lawsuit are bracing to deliver opening briefs in Wyoming U.S. District Court on Feb. 21.

The rules “aim to reduce the waste of natural gas from mineral leases administered by the BLM,” the agency said in a Federal Register notice. This gas is lost during production activities, through venting, flaring, and equipment leaks.

The BLM manages oil and gas leases in tribal and allotment jurisdiction, as well as on federal properties, for a total of more than 245 million acres of land and 700 million acres of subsurface rights, making up nearly a third of the U.S. mineral estate.

The states of Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, together with the Western Energy Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, are suing the Interior Department over the update.

They contend the it constitutes “unlawful agency action because it exceeds BLM’s statutory authority and is otherwise arbitrary and capricious.”

The states of New Mexico and California, as well as representatives of indigenous peoples and conservation groups, including Wyoming Outdoor Council, Earthworks, and the multi-state grassroots coalition of the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) are fighting back on the side of the BLM.

“These commonsense rules will help end flaring, venting, and leaks that waste natural gas, while also providing concrete health benefits to communities throughout the West by reducing pollution from the oil and gas industry,” said WORC board member Lisa DeVille, a member of the Mandan Hidatsa & Arikara Nation.

A resident of Mandaree, North Dakota, on Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation at the center of Bakken oilfield, DeVille noted that many of the estimated 1,500 fracking wells here flare methane round-the-clock.

The agency estimates that although the update will have an overall compliance cost on tribal lands of from $13 million to $39 million per year, the net benefits to society will be from $3 million to $25 million annually.

“We further estimate that the rule would reduce methane emissions from leases on Indian lands by 22,000 tons per year and would reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by 30,000–32,000 tons per year,” it said.

About one-third of methane emissions in the United States come from oil and gas operations, WORC notes. Methane is an important greenhouse gas, because it has 87 times more heat trapping power than carbon dioxide over 20 years, according to Earthworks.

The pollution from methane leaks and intentional releases can have negative health impacts on communities surrounding oil and gas development, and on the climate too, it notes. Among them are increased cancer and respiratory disease risk, and fetal defects.

The rules, in addition to improving reservation health conditions, would result in boosting royalties from leases on Indian lands by $300,000 to $1.9 million per year, the BLM said.

Conceived in the previous Presidential Administration of Barack Obama, the rules are in line with its goal to cut U.S. oil-and-gas methane pollution by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.

The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (MLA) requires the BLM to ensure that lessees ‘‘use all reasonable precautions to prevent waste of oil or gas developed in the land.’’

However, while oil and gas production technology has advanced dramatically in recent years, the BLM’s rules to minimize waste of gas have not been updated in more than 30 years.

Over the past decade, the United States has experienced an increase in oil and natural gas production due to growing use of technological innovations, such as hydraulic fracturing combined with directional drilling.

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: Tribes could benefit from methane captured in fracking, but industry opposes rules update

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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